“Can you hear me now?” Who remembers that tagline, made famous by Verizon Wireless a few years back? Take a good look around you – are people on your team asking the same question of you?
Too often, people do not feel “heard,” and therefore, they do not feel respected. This is a risk we cannot afford to take, especially when the solution is well within our power to achieve. Leaders spend a lot of time talking about the importance of feedback. But do we really want it – and are we actually listening when we get it?
The feedback loop
As leaders and learners, we need feedback! The trick is to separate the chatter from true insight. The beauty of a team is the convergence of different people forming unique perspectives. Your team may have great ideas (and a lot of them), but if we’re not careful, the volume of ideas may drown out the value of the best ones.
To manage feedback, we need to have a context for listening. Converting data to information and information to action is what separates good listeners from great listeners. Taking it a step further, being able to assign actionable feedback to empowered employees helps you:
- Manage your strategy in a scalable way
- Involve the team directly in the work
- Create leaders whom people want to follow because they feel heard, respected, valued and engaged
Team members who see their contribution to the bigger picture also see progress and opportunity, professionally and personally. Ultimately, they feel mutually responsible for the future they had a voice in creating.
Context is critical
Leaders need to find the method that works for them, their business and their teams. Here are the process and rules I follow in order to create a context for listening, as well as an engaged workforce.
- Foster an open environment. People should feel that they can speak freely, without judgement or repercussions – it’s the only way you’ll have voices to hear in the first place.
- Accept the good and the bad. You have to accept positive, as well as negative voices. It’s about learning and informing; it’s not about your own personal validation.
- React appropriately. You reinforce their ability to speak freely, not just by asking for their opinion but, more importantly, by how you react to it – verbally and nonverbally. You can’t be defensive or a pushover; you have to find the balance in between.
- Frame your purpose. You must have a purpose to your feedback requests. For example, I usually ask for it in the following areas:
- Business growth
- Business improvement
- Human capital development
- Personal development (my own and others)
- Give thanks. Thank people for their ideas. It feels just as good to hear thank you as it does to say it.
- Follow up. Communicate a process and timeline for responding or acting on the feedback.
- Manage expectations. You are the leader. It’s your responsibility to make final decisions – and it’s not a popularity contest. Sometimes, those decisions will reflect the feedback heard; sometimes they will not. You are accountable and should use your judgment in making the final call.
- Learn and grow. Celebrate the wins and admit your failures; both will help you learn and make you smarter the next time around.
Out in the open
When I first had children, someone wise said, “If you let them, kids will open every window of life with their questions. Be careful how you react; you may be slamming them shut without even knowing it.” Unfortunately, I think I have slammed a couple windows in my day, and I regret it. But through these rules, I have kept many more open.
We spend a lot of money recruiting and developing great talent. We need to spend an equal amount of time listening to that same talent. We may not always agree with the feedback we hear. But even if we don’t agree, truly listening to their perspective should help improve our decision making and strengthen overall team engagement.