What we tell ourselves as leaders to avoid honest feedback
I was on the phone with a CEO the other week. He wanted my advice for how he could cultivate a more open, transparent company culture for his team.
This CEO seemed to be already doing a lot of the right things. He held monthly all-hands meetings to get everyone on the same page. He also regularly asked questions to his employees about what could be better in the company.
However, when I recommended one question that he ask his employees, he was a bit taken aback.
“You want me to ask my team: ‘Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you think we should?’ Hmm, I dunno, Claire,” he told me.
This CEO assured me that he welcomed and valued feedback from employees. But asking about company benefits? And asking about them so publicly? He started to feel nervous about it.
“I don’t want the feedback to be a distraction,” he shared. “There’s so much we already do around benefits — I think this could set the wrong expectations and derail people from getting their work done.”
“And, I don’t think we’re ready to act on that feedback. If we ask that question, it implies we need to implement something. But it might not be cost-effective. If we can’t do it, I don’t want to let people down.”
I get it. I’m a CEO myself. No CEO wants her employees to be distracted. No CEO wants to make false promises.
Here’s the reality, though: If you dig deeper, those two statements are actually excuses that are keeping you from building the open, transparent company culture you’re keen on.
Let’s take a look.
Excuse #1: “I don’t want feedback to be a distraction.”
Any feedback your employee might have already exists, whether or not you choose to ask about it. If someone has an idea to improve company benefits, that’s an idea that they’re already thinking about in their heads. So if you don’t ask about it — if you let that feedback sit and fester — it becomes a distraction. The longer you ignore it, the longer you don’t ask about it, the greater the distraction balloons. The way to nip the distraction in the bud is to ask about it. When you ask a question like, “Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you think the we should?”, you have an opportunity to clear the air, and help an employee feel heard. Asking for feedback isn’t the distraction — pretending that your employees don’t have feedback is.
Excuse #2: “I’m not ready to act on feedback.”
Popular management wisdom tells you that,”You shouldn’t ask for feedback unless you’re ready to act on it.” Sure, if you don’t do something with the feedback, you’ll look like you’re not following through on your word. But acting on feedback doesn’t necessarily mean implementing the actual piece of feedback. You can thank the person who gave you the feedback. You can explain why you’re not enacting the feedback, and provide context for the decision. Both routes show you’re listening, and that you value your employees’ feedback. Oftentimes, that recognition and explanation is all an employee is looking for. They’ll take notice.
If you’ve ever caught your own manager — or yourself — saying the above two excuses, then here’s my tip: Stop.
While you may mean well, you’re hindering yourself from creating the open, transparent company culture you’ve always wanted.