Today’s question is from a reader looking to improve employee feedback:
Hello. I want to know what can be done to improve the feedback system in our company so opinions and suggestions are valued and are attended to appropriately. New employees feel shy to open up and speak out the areas of problem and conflict. What can be done to bridge the gap between new employees and company trainers to improve the company’s development?
This question seems to be specifically focused on new hires so I want to add some thoughts to posts I’ve already written. Companies want to create a work environment where new hires feel comfortable offering feedback and suggestions for improvement. There’s a wonderful window of opportunity.
New hires have fresh eyes and perspectives. But, they will only have them for so long. Then they become part of the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” crowd. This isn’t to say that people will resist and can’t change. It means, somewhere along the line, our viewpoint becomes different because we’ve been around for a while and become comfortable. When I worked in hotels, we called it “not noticing the dirt.”
That’s the key – reaching out and soliciting feedback before new hires get comfortable. New employees are so excited when they start. Companies want to leverage this and come to understand how to keep that high level of enthusiasm. I’ve seen many occasions where a new employee is so thrilled and has tons of ideas only to become disillusioned. You know, that whole “the honeymoon’s over” thing. Here are some things to consider if you want to improve the quantity and quality of feedback.
Companies have to mean it. If you say you want feedback, then really want it. Otherwise it’s just lip-service and everyone knows it. They will stop telling you what you need to know and start saying what you want to hear.
Do something with the feedback. The absolute worst thing you can do is ask for feedback and do nothing with it. Even if the company isn’t prepared to act on it right away, let the employee know. I believe a reasonable person understands you can’t do everything at the same time. What’s hard to explain is not giving someone a reply.
Find a good time to ask for feedback. It’s great to ask for feedback about the new hire process on an employee’s first day or ask about training during orientation. But that isn’t enough. A new hire hasn’t really been exposed to enough to offer valid comments. So continue to get those first impressions, but consider adding a feedback discussion at 90-days or 6-months.
Figure out what information you’re looking for. I recently wrote an onboarding program for an organization that thought employees needed to know A, B, and C on the first day. When we talked with employees, they said “I needed to know X, Y, and Z right away. Didn’t use A for weeks. No one mentioned B for months.” So understanding what people need to know is good. Learning when people need to know it is better.
Ultimately, any company that wants to improve feedback – whether it’s for new hires or existing employees – needs to create and nurture an organizational culture that supports feedback. Before deciding that the focus of improving feedback lies with employees, make sure that the company’s messages align with their actions.