Will you listen if your team gives you feedback? The belief is that leaders will listen but it may not be as straightforward as we think. I’ve never heard anyone say they have a “closed door policy” so it would seem that people would more willing to share their input right? The results would say no. Leaders consistently report they are often likely to experience a lack of input about decisions or even on topics we should discuss at a meeting. We do surveys, ask for input, have town-hall meetings and yet, it seems some unrecognizable force is against us to get the input we want and need. What could be the reasons for this? Well, let’s take a look but through the lens of the way that leaders inadvertently create these issues.
There could be two causes: a fear of consequences and a sense of futility; nothing will change anyway. Here is one example; relying on anonymous feedback. Now it seems like this would lessen the fear of retribution issue right? But guess what? It actually makes it worse. This says, “it isn’t safe to share openly so we will hide you out. It also creates a “who said this?! I bet it was Jack in accounting!” Let alone that you can’t address issues when they are anonymously reported. Additionally, the anonymity seems to drive more of a victim consciousness.
Ok, here’s another issue. Relying on general invitations to come “talk to me anytime”. Well, this isn’t very specific and it doesn’t provide context for people to give feedback reliably. This drives futility combined with the issue that your office is on the 27th floor or you’re never around the team other than at scheduled meetings. Also, leaders can drive the futility issue by asking for feedback about service when they really want to get feedback about increasing sales.
Leaders can also send a message of futility of they give the impression that they are intimately tied or committed to a project. If teams feel that you are, they are much less likely to share their input which fits in with sending signals that “you’re the boss. Sitting with your arms behind your head and feet up on a table (I’ve seen this), interrupting, sitting behind the desk or standing over someone. This seems like common sense but unfortunately, common sense doesn’t mean common practice.
More on the futility factor. One big issue here is that if you want more candor or any behavioral change, you have to be willing to address it at all levels, including top management. Leaders and organizations that feel they can change behaviors at one level but not across the organization drive futility on teams. And last but not least; providing no resources to address issues that would be garnered from feedback is the biggest issue with futility. Often leaders say they want to know what people are thinking and feeling but are not prepared to make the necessary changes nor have they designated the right resources to be able to address the necessary changes. For example, someone to synthesis the data on surveys and interpret the results and then designing a plan to get to action and create accountability for change.
So, how do you create a culture of feedback coming to you as a leader? Let us know what you think.
The Leadership Weekly
Weekly wisdom from the DS Leadership Life team.