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How to Give Company Leaders Constructive Feedback without Fearing Retaliation

Anne Balistreri
min read
Event Marketing

How to Give Company Leaders Constructive Feedback without Fearing Retaliation

Anne Balistreri
min read

It's critical to hear from your employees about what's going well and what's not to create a thriving and engaging work culture. It seems easy enough in theory; however, more often than not, employees are hesitant to speak up at work about serious matters for fear of retaliation. We recently sat down with Founder and CEO of AllVoices, Claire Schmidt, to unpack the topic of how to give, receive, and effectively communicate feedback. 

Watch the full event here.

According to Schmidt, there's no perfect company, culture, or utopia. So, how do you make it possible for employees to speak up about what's happening in their reality, especially if their reality isn't positive? The answer is you give them the opportunity early and often. If you do that, you'll find that you have the information you need to take action to improve things.

5 Ways to Give Leaders Constructive Feedback

According to an AllVoices survey, 79% of employees have shared feedback with their employer, 41% have left the job because they didn't feel listened to, and 37% have left the job because they thought the feedback wasn't being taken seriously in the workplace. 

It's essential to create multiple options for employees to speak up so they feel comfortable giving constructive feedback to leaders. Here are five different channels that you can implement within your organization. 

Build Trust With an Open Door Policy

An open door policy means every manager's door is open to every employee. Having one can encourage open communication, transparency, feedback, and discussion among managers and employees.

To quote Harold S. Geneen;

"A true leader has to have a genuine open door policy so that his people are not afraid to approach him for any reason."

This communication policy should foster trust throughout the company, and employees should not fear retaliation should they raise issues with the company or their work with any managers.

Give Tips for Having Conversations With Their Direct Leadership

Giving constructive feedback to your manager can feel awkward. Employees may be worried they'll take it the wrong way, and it may feel too risky. But if you have an open door policy, managers should be open to honest sharing and "upward" feedback. Ensure you train all employees on how to deliver feedback appropriately and tactfully. Some tips to share are:

  • Focus on solutions instead of complaints. Constructive feedback should help build toward a positive outcome.
  • Cut straight to the chase. Getting straight to the point leaves no room for interpretation.
  • Be honest. Honesty is the best policy. Just make sure to remain professional.

Provide an Anonymous Channel for Employee Feedback

Having an employee feedback management platform helps employees speak up about anything they want to at work, positive, negative, and neutral, in real-time. It's essential to have a two-way communication channel so that HR leaders, legal leaders, CEOs, and anyone in the leadership role can have a back-and-forth conversation with that employee. And since it's anonymous, employees feel safe speaking up without fearing retaliation. 

Schmidt referenced a study from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that said 75% of people who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never report it. So they don't share that information with someone who could take action and address it. Of the 25% who do report it, 75% face some retaliation for speaking up. 

"These data points represent a broken system," said Schmidt. " I think pre-MeToo movement, we, as a society, just said to employees, speak up, or nobody will help you. And those are your two options. According to that data, employees, for the most part, just stayed quiet."

An anonymous channel allows employees to speak up in a space that feels safer and is in real-time. So they don't need to fear retaliation, and the right people become aware of the issue to help resolve it. 

Send Pulse Surveys

Annual surveys are an excellent tool for helping you gauge the cultural health of your organization year over year and if it's trending in the right direction. But sometimes, you must quickly tap into your employees' views and feelings. Schmidt explains, "Maybe managers hear whispers that people are unhappy with the PTO policy, and it's beginning to ripple throughout the organization. Sending a pulse survey that day asking questions about the new policy will help you pull information about a particular and actionable topic in real-time."

Pulse surveys differ from annual surveys in the following ways:

  • More frequent. Pulse surveys could be weekly, monthly, quarterly, or case-by-case.
  • More specific. Pulse surveys focus on a specific topic, whereas annual surveys cover a more comprehensive range of topics.
  • Shorter. Because pulse surveys focus on one particular topic, fewer questions are asked. 

Conduct Stay Interviews

Turning the Great Resignation into the Great Retention will take some effort from leaders. An excellent start is by listening to employees' needs and addressing inequities. One way to do this is by conducting stay interviews. We've all heard of exit interviews, which allow a departing employee to explain why they're leaving and offer feedback. "It's helpful, but that employee is already out the door, so it's too little, too late when retaining them," says Schmidt.

Stay interviews are the inverse of exit interviews. Schmidt explains, "Leaders from within the company set up a time to talk one-on-one with individual employees about why they're staying onboard and not leaving. It's an opportunity to uncover what's working well/not well, what employees' like/dislike about their jobs and company, how the company can better support them as an employee and how to ensure that that employee will still be at your organization a year from now."

When conducting a stay interview, start with these five questions:

  1. What do you look forward to at work every day?
  2. What do you dislike about work every day?
  3. What do you think of the way employees are recognized?
  4. How would you rate our work/life balance, and how would you improve it?
  5. What can I do to make your experience better?

Keep in mind that the key to conducting a stay interview is actively listening to what they say and asking thoughtful follow-up questions. 

Schmidt explains that employees might still fear retaliation, but at least you're allowing them to speak up and showing them that you and the organization are receptive to and want their feedback.

Implementing a combination of all the above practices can be incredibly valuable at painting a comprehensive picture of what's going on with employees. 

Watch the entire event here for more ideas and constructive feedback best practices.

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