By John Rampton, founder of Palo Alto, California-based Calendar, a company helping your calendar be much more productive.
Leaders are used to giving their employees feedback to help their team meet its objectives and improve individual performance. However, managers also need feedback from their direct reports about their leadership style. Without it, they can’t improve and may continue with patterns and behaviors that frustrate their team and even cause turnover.
Managers who gather, listen to and act on employee feedback can take steps to make the work environment better. Employees may also see these leaders as more invested in their professional development and well-being. Research suggests that managers who make their team members feel cared for and competent can boost employee engagement levels.
The challenging part, though, is finding ways to collect honest feedback from employees without making them feel uncomfortable or pressured. Establishing open communication and a culture where team members feel safe expressing their opinions can help break through some of the power dynamics. Here are three ways managers can do that while using employee feedback to improve their leadership styles.
1. Conduct employee surveys.
Despite the very real threat of survey fatigue, employee surveys can be an effective way to gather anonymous feedback. Surveys give team members a chance to express their thoughts without the pressure of a face-to-face meeting. That’s important, as some direct reports may feel uncomfortable providing in-person feedback.
An employee might be new to the organization, for example, or perhaps they haven’t worked under their current manager for very long. Others could come from organizational cultures where traditional command-and-control dynamics weren’t questioned. Annual and pulse surveys provide a less daunting space for them to express their perceptions of a leader’s performance.
Annual surveys tend to be broader in scope and ask a variety of questions. Pulse surveys are more focused on specific topics and usually contain no more than 10 questions. Yearly surveys can give leaders an overall sense of how teams perceive their style and level of support. But pulse survey feedback might reveal opportunities about certain areas of concern and current needs. Leaders can use employee responses to offer more resources, improve methods and boost long-term satisfaction levels.
2. Hold individual and team meetings.
A democratic leadership style includes routinely asking employees for their input about processes and decisions. Instead of a manager making decisions alone, the entire team gets to participate and have a say. This small difference can increase engagement levels since it involves employees in choices that directly impact their work.
Teams generally can’t pick their managers, but the way their leader approaches the job will definitely influence their happiness. Employees may feel less controlled if they can help shape their workplaces and their leader’s practices. One-on-one and team meetings are opportunities for managers to discover ways they’re holding the group back.
Team members might point out, for example, how conflicting responsibilities prevent them from getting work done on time. The leader could restructure those tasks or bring in more staff to handle specific job assignments. Likewise, a one-on-one meeting could reveal that an employee needs more on-the-job training and direct manager involvement. The leader could take a more hands-on approach or pair that employee with a more experienced team member.
3. Work with employees in the trenches.
Survey research shows a disconnect between individual leaders’ visions and their organizations’ strategic directions. Only 29% of employees think their manager’s vision always aligns with the organization’s. This may be linked to a lack of communication and support throughout the leadership chain. However, it could also be because managers sometimes become removed from what’s happening in the trenches.
Taking the time to work with—or at least visit—each team member can remove some of the blinders that develop when a leader stays holed up in their office. It gives them a chance to establish rapport with employees and experience what their jobs are like. Managers may find that procedures they thought were helpful don’t work so well in practice. They might also see roadblocks their teams are encountering and potential resources that are lacking.
Joining employees in their work creates additional opportunities for leaders to ask how they can better support their teams. Employees can talk about their struggles, ask on-the-spot questions and receive real-time guidance. This is also a chance for leaders to demonstrate they’re willing to roll up their sleeves. They’re not just a boss giving orders from behind a curtain. Working alongside employees can show that managers are invested in making the workplace better.
While there are several ways for managers to perfect their skills, employee feedback reveals how their behaviors influence the team. Staff input can increase leaders’ self-awareness and expand their perspectives. Employee surveys, individual and group meetings and in-person work sessions are ways managers can collect feedback and open up the lines of communication. As they consider and incorporate employees’ suggestions, leaders can better meet the needs of their teams.