Being successful does not mean you are always right—it just means that your good decisions outweighed your bad ones. Unfortunately, almost all of the decisions you have to make as a leader require judgment – often based on incomplete or conflicting information. If you run an organization of any significant size, you need open, honest feedback from your team in order to make effective decisions. However, creating an environment where employees feel safe to provide that feedback can be challenging.
To make sure you are doing your part to create an environment that welcomes various perspectives, ask yourself the following questions.
- How do you react to feedback? Sometimes it is difficult to hear people disagree with your idea, approach, or strategy. However, nothing can undermine your efforts to get feedback more than a curt, angry, or dismissive response, so pause and take a deep breath when you feel the urge to shut down dialogue. There is nothing wrong with having a constructive debate about the merits of different positions. Just make sure that you do so in a respectful, thoughtful manner.
- Do you reward feedback? Whether you demonstrate an openness to feedback or not, your team will always have some reluctance to share their thoughts, especially when the stakes are high (just when you need it most!). Positive feedback in the form of a simple thank you can go a long way to let others know that you value their input and are open to new ideas. In group settings, this can be particularly effective because it sends a powerful message in a high-stakes setting where people may fear a negative reaction. If you want to take it up a notch, try engaging in a free-flowing discussion with the group about alternatives. By doing so, you are not only creating a culture of safety, but also helping them refine their own problem-solving skills.
- Do you take action? If you ask others to take the time to share their ideas, thoughts, or concerns, then you owe them the courtesy of a response. If their feedback results in a change in plans, then make sure everyone connects the change to the feedback. However, if you need more time to make a decision, let them know and most importantly, follow up. Finally, if you decide to go in a different direction, explain why. This, again, will not only demonstrate that you took their feedback seriously, but will help others better understand the priorities and values of the organization.
By responding constructively to feedback, rewarding those who have the courage to speak up, and demonstrating a willingness to take action, you can maximize employee engagement and illuminate blind spots. Better yet, obtaining diverse perspectives can create a more innovative environment and build a better foundation for long-term performance.
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