As a business owner, you can’t be all things to all people. You also can’t be in more than one place at a time.
However, your employees can.
Collectively, they cover a lot more ground than you do.
If you are a business of small-to-medium size, you probably have workers on the front line who are getting a ton of daily feedback from your customers, for instance. That is valuable knowledge.
You may also have operational employees running your business who can likely tell you how to save money and provide better quality service or products. That is also valuable knowledge.
You also probably have at least one person who continuously monitors your financial situation – someone who can see trends before they come one. That is very valuable knowledge indeed!
The problem with reviews as the only feedback mechanism is that they focus too much on the employee, instead of cultivating the kind of input you need to do a better job dominating your marketplace. Typically, they also don’t analyze the role the employee plays or how the business is structured to support or hinder that employee, nor do they take advantage of the unique perspective the employee has or obtains by operating in their particular role.
It may be uncomfortable to hear, but every business (and business owner) can improve…and realize more revenue in the process.
So what then?
You need to be set up to get informal feedback – and not just once a year.
Your goal is to open the lines of communication so that you are getting that critical feedback continuously. By the way, this also opens the door for you to give feedback informally, on as as-needed basis, as well.
Here are three ways to do this:
1. Don’t tie feedback to a formal review process.
Formal reviews are stressful for everyone involved.
As a manager, you feel compelled to point out negatives as well as positives, but pointing out negatives makes people universally defensive.
This shuts down anything resembling a fruitful exchange of ideas and information.
2. Foster a culture of trust
Employees need to trust that there won’t be repercussions if they speak their mind…and it’s critical that they do so.
Your employees are the ones on the front line, grinding it out, hour-by-hour, to make your business run, or having their finger on the pulse of your financial picture. They know what improvements need to be made.
You should never take it personally when they share these things, and – here’s the important part – you need to act on them. If you don’t, eventually your employees will get the message that you don’t care about their feedback, so why should they continue to give it to you?
Also, when employees see that you can take constructive criticism for what it is (and act on it), they are more likely to follow suit when it’s their turn on the receiving end.
3. Tell them why
Don’t just tell people they need to change something…tell them why they need to do it.
For example, if you need more information on a report, say “This is great that you have included top-line revenue by sales rep on this report. Because we are watching the bottom line in addition to top-line revenue, let’s include commissions, mileage, and entertainment expenses on the next round.”
Employees can see they aren’t inherently wrong by doing what they are doing, and by taking your direction they will be helping the company (and their careers by extension).
“Employers sometimes forget that it’s a two-way street with workers,” said Jenn Little, Director of Human Resources at Foundations Wellness Center. “When they do this, they are missing out on improving their business, their bottom line, and providing a good environment for their employees.”
“We have a 24/7, two-way feedback system,” Little continued. “We tell employees on the spot if they are doing a great job; likewise, we give immediate suggestions on how to improve what they do. Employees also give us this feedback on what we can do better as well. This feedback loop happens organically, as things happen.”
If employees can give and receive feedback without fear, they won’t overreact on what would be considered negative were it couched in a sit-down, formal review.
“The fact that our employees feel comfortable giving that feedback right back to us, knowing their jobs are not in jeopardy when they do, has been a driving factor in our continued growth,” Little concluded.
Isn’t growing your company the ultimate goal after all?
Cultivate and embrace an informal feedback loop, and watch what a difference it makes.