Due to the Covid-19 crisis and remote working dynamics, systems for sending and receiving employee feedback have become disrupted, if not completely closed down.
For example, gone are the days of walking into the boss’ office for a private conversation, or having a suggestion box in the office into which an employee could anonymously place a note. Today’s typical Zoom or Teams remote meeting protocols inhibit feedback because they are more public, trackable and recordable, potentially exposing private or confidential criticism, advice, ideas or information to a larger or unintended group.
The hybrid work environment also contributes to a deteriorating feedback situation. With more employees working from home, part or full-time, people are more disconnected than ever from the culture and environment of the companies for which they work. As well, companies have less control over employees’ worktime access to third party social media to air thoughts and grievances. Without an updated feedback program that takes into account the current environment, companies are potentially exposed to greater risk than they need to be.
Companies also put themselves at risk if they rely on outmoded feedback training curricula that haven’t been updated since the start of the pandemic. In many cases, the organizations themselves don’t prioritize the collection of feedback and feedback training outright. However, the value of feedback training, collection and management is undeniable and cannot be postponed.
In today’s instantaneous messaging climate, the faster and more privately a company discovers and handles such issues as harassment, discrimination, questionable work environment, operational inefficiencies and so on, the better. Once an issue goes public, it’s nearly impossible to control the dialog.
Even the best-managed companies need to commit to reviewing feedback procedure and administering refresher training based on updated curricula for the times. State-of-the-art feedback learning and development programs should be based on the following six objectives, designed to promote quality feedback, dialog and privacy:
1) Make feedback and feedback training a corporate priority.
Companies cannot stick their heads in the sand and hope for the best. There is too much brand, product and litigation risk involved not to manage feedback properly and to teach people the correct ways to handle it.
2) Review your feedback plan.
If you already have one, update it. If not, create one. Questions to ask: what kinds of feedback would you want to receive? How do you promote the company’s openness to receiving feedback? What are the vehicles you employ for communicating feedback? Who should receive the feedback? How should your company respond to each type—unsolicited feedback, solicited feedback, positive feedback, negative feedback, organized surveys, etc.?
3) Guarantee the integrity of the feedback system.
Employees must feel completely comfortable about the confidentiality and professionalism of the system in order to be able to trust it with their most open and honest feedback. If employees are not comfortable with your company’s process, it risks employees looking to other, more public ways to get their feedback heard. Construct your own feedback apparatus or consider a number of very good third-party platforms. Once secure, promote your system as one that deserves absolute trust.
4) Make your “suggestion box” accessible online so everyone can participate.
On the one hand, employees want to feel secure that they are safe from repercussions and can even be anonymous if need be. On the other, employees like to feel that they are being heard and considered. Online, one can develop filters to protect identities, while at the same time enabling rapid responsiveness and dialog.
5) Teach executives the most effective messages and protocol for responding to feedback.
Be prepared. Develop a feedback team, including HR and legal executives. Brainstorm various “what if” scenarios to be prepared for messaging and protocol to handle issues in the best interests of the employee and the company.
6) Create a feedback environment of respect.
Develop ways to respond empathetically and without emotion so people feel respected, that they are being heard and that they have an opportunity to participate in dialog to contribute to the well-being of the organization. If appropriate, even circle back to obtain feedback on how the employee’s expectations have been handled. A company’s feedback program can actually become an important recruiting and retention tool, compared to other companies. Once in place, promote your program’s superiority. When employees feel that a company cares about them and listens to them more than other companies do, it will be an important differentiator getting prospective employees to choose your company over other choices—and then make them want to stay there.