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How to action employee feedback

Last updated on 
October 16, 2020

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Honest employee feedback is essential for every business. Without it, you can’t grow or improve – you can’t learn from mistakes or solve problems. But while more companies are creating systems for regular, candid feedback, they often miss the important final step – acting on it.

As a manager, you’re a vehicle for change in the workplace. It’s your responsibility to ensure everyone has a chance to offer feedback, and translate it into meaningful action. Failing to do so can degrade trust, create disengagement and isolate people. But how do you actually go about actioning employee feedback?

The importance of taking action

Asking employees for feedback is one of the most valuable steps any company can make. Giving employees a voice shows that you value them, improves collaboration, and helps create a better experience – all of which strengthen your organization. It improves job satisfaction, retention, and company culture as a whole, and employee representation, engagement and psychological safety all depend on it. But it’s important to remember that action is the ultimate objective of feedback.

If you’re only asking for feedback because you want to cross it off your to-do list – or you’re just curious to find out what people really think – you won’t get far. Asking for feedback raises hope for change and expectation of improvement, so failing to follow it through can actually harm your business. One employee engagement consulting firm found that a third of employees feel disengaged when employers ask for feedback but fail to act on it.

Few things are more deflating than plucking up the courage to raise an issue with management, only to see that nothing materially changes. Asking for employee feedback is only valuable if you’re actually willing to act on the feedback to implement positive change. Not doing so is a surefire recipe for disconnected, disillusioned employees.

How to action feedback

Every workplace needs a robust policy in place to action employee feedback. Harvard Business Review found that even when leaders try to collect worthwhile feedback, they only utilize about a quarter of its potential value. While it’s up to you to create the mechanism that works best for your workplace, there are a few best practices you should consider.

1. Reflect on the data with a trusted colleague

It’s important never to make knee-jerk, impulsive decisions after receiving feedback. Instead, reflect on it thoughtfully with a colleague you trust. Consider what you learned from the feedback and what your initial reaction was. It’s understandable that you might feel defensive or uneasy if any of the feedback is negative – this is why it’s important to have someone you trust discuss it with you.

Remember that your partner isn’t there to evaluate your performance, but to help you confront and accept the feedback you’ve received. Resist the temptation to ask the other person for the advice – at this stage, you only need to analyze how you yourself feel about the feedback.

2. Draw up a plan

Once you’ve absorbed the feedback, it’s time to consider what you’re actually going to do about it. Highlight the most valuable feedback you received, then draw up a draft action plan that identifies the main areas where you need to improve. What help will you need to fix any frailties, or enhance your strengths? Decide what actions should be taken, and how you’ll measure progress. Create specific, quantifiable, appropriate goals that allow you not only to monitor progress, but to celebrate successes too (OKRs can be useful for this).

The nature of your action will completely depend on the issues raised and reason for feedback itself. Protecting employee wellfare at work, for example, will require a much more complex repsonse than finding new opportunities to build staff connection. Staff training, expanding HR, creating new company policy, hiring more people, investing in culture, creating budgets for professional development, improving the workplace environment – this inexhaustive list is just a snapshot of the forms considered action can take.

3. Hold a focus group to refine your plan

Giving and receiving feedback can be a minefield, and if you’ve received negative feedback from employees, it can be tempting to avoid confronting it. No-one wants to put someone else on the spot or make them feel embarrassed or awkward. But to truly capitalize on employee feedback, being able to talk about it with empathy, humility and understanding is invaluable – and goes a long way in strengthening relationships, too.

Creating a focus group lets you gauge and refine the effectiveness of your proposed changes with the people they will directly affect. Firstly, thank your employees for their feedback. Feedback is a gift, and should always be seen as a positive, so it’s important you convey this. Then, summarize what you took from their feedback and ask questions so you can be sure you’re on the same page. Share your action plan and see what your employees think. Are you taking the necessary steps to improve? What changes do they want to see? What else could you include?

4. Update and action your plan

The next step is to take any insights from your focus group, reflect them in your plan… and then, action it! This is the most important step. It doesn’t matter how dutifully you follow the steps above – if you fail to action it, it’s all for nothing. You might have learned from the feedback, but if nothing changes there’ll be no improvement and your employees will disengage.

Follow the steps in your plan as diligently as you can, and hold regular meetings to see how things are going. Are people noticing an improvement? What could be better? What other steps could you take? Continually evaluate your progress every step of the way – and never forget that the best leaders don’t just ask for feedback; they learn and change from it.

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