Have you ever seen the show Undercover Boss? In the show, CEOs go undercover in their own organization to find out the truth about what’s going on the trenches. The results are usually pretty shocking and CEOs come to realize they are totally out of touch with reality of what’s happening in their company.
Love or hate the show, there’s one big reason it’s so compelling. It’s because employees are finally telling the truth with no filter and no apologies.
In most organizations employees are afraid to give their honest feedback to management. James Detert, associate professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management has studied this reluctance to give feedback extensively. In one of his studies, he found that the impulse for self-preservation is usually so high that they don’t give feedback, even if it would help the organization. The instinct of most employees is to keep their mouths shut.
Do you need to collect feedback by going undercover?
If employees are so unwilling to give feedback, what options does your organization have? Does your CEO need to put on a wig and faux mustache and work in different parts of the company?
Honest and timely feedback does not require an undercover operation. In fact, it’s easier than most organizations think. Here’s four steps to collecting better feedback from your employees:
1. Enable employees to provide feedback on an ongoing basis
While the annual Employee Engagement Survey is a great way to collect feedback to get a snapshot of overall employee satisfaction, employees’ view of management and more, it is only one avenue to collect feedback. You cannot rely on a once-a-year opportunity to get employee perspectives. Multiple opportunities need to be offered on an ongoing basis to take the pulse of employees. Regular, consistent feedback from employees enables issues to be identified before they become larger problems.
2. Let your employees provide anonymous feedback
The reason employees on Undercover Boss are so willing to offer feedback is because they are speaking with a peer and have no real fear of reprisal. If the goal is honest feedback, consider offering opportunities for feedback to be provided anonymously. Provide employees with a choice so that you get the most accurate and impactful feedback possible.
3. Act on feedback to Build Trust
Collecting feedback is only part of the equation. The success of these initiatives rests solely on your organization’s ability to act on the feedback that is collected. Constantly collecting feedback and not acting on it does nothing to build employee trust. Set a system in place so there’s a closed loop where employee feedback is actioned appropriately. If employees can see the impact of their feedback, they will be more trusting in the process.
4. Highlight improvements
After implementing suggestions from your employees, make sure to highlight the improvements internally. This can be done via email updates, small team meetings or even a company-wide, town hall meeting.
Seeing action on feedback is incredibly powerful and demonstrates that employee feedback is valued. With a feedback loop in place, employees will be more willing to speak up in the future as they know that management is serious about receiving and acting upon this feedback.
The more honesty you can garner from employees, the higher levels of employee satisfaction are apt to be — all of which contributes to corporate performance for the long haul. What challenges does your organization have in collecting honest feedback? Where can the process be improved upon? When you really think about these questions, and take action to answer them decisively your employees will be happier, your customers better served and your company all the more competitive.