How to Ask Employees for Honest Feedback—And Get It

5 min read • Sep 09, 2021 • Derek Miller

Employees are there to help your business—not just with production and daily operations but also with culture, processes, and improving efficiencies. 

If you want to grow your business, you need to lean on the people who know it best. More often than not, these influential people are not your managers but your frontline employees. Your team has unique perspectives and insights into the inner workings of your company, and they are the ones who can help you find ways to save money, increase profitability, and grow your business.

As a manager, you need to create an environment where employees feel comfortable giving feedback and sharing their ideas and opinions.

It’s not always easy to solicit feedback from team members, and your employees will stop giving it if their ideas aren’t heard. Here’s how you can effectively ask for feedback and receive it from your employees.

Stop Taking It Personally

Accepting feedback is difficult for everyone, but it can be especially hard for business owners or managers to hear it. Feedback can often mean facing the fact that you aren’t perfect and may not know as much as you think about your business.

This reality is why many people are bad at receiving criticism. However, if you are serious about improving your business, you need to get over these mental blocks and listen to what people have to say. 

Realize that most employees aren’t criticizing you. They are criticizing a process or method that could be improved. They don’t think you are incompetent or doing things the wrong way. They simply found a better option and think it could help the business. Remember, you’re all on the same team—improving the company is the main goal.

As you receive feedback, try to break the habit of “wrong-spotting” or identifying why the feedback is incorrect or unusable. For example, you may reject feedback because of poor word choice or timing. You might reject feedback from a new employee because you don’t think they know enough about the company to make a judgment. Instead, focus on the core ideas and see if applying them can improve your workplace.  

Request Feedback With Specific Objectives

Often, the feedback that managers request is vague or misleading to the point where employees aren’t sure how they should respond. Instead, be more intentional with how you ask for feedback.

For example, be specific. Instead of a generic “how am I doing?” ask whether you are setting reasonable goals or communicating instructions clearly. Instead of asking, “What changes would you make?” ask how your employees would prefer to operate or receive communications. 

These questions will give you better answers while allowing your employees to channel their feedback on actionable items. Focusing on these directives can also take some of the emotions out of offering feedback. 

Create Multiple Channels for Feedback

Your employees communicate in different ways and have multiple levels of comfort approaching you. Some team members might feel comfortable walking right up if they have an issue, while others would be terrified to approach you with criticism in person.

Employee comfort levels vary based on their seniority in the company, age, and cultural background. In some regions, you can’t easily criticize your managers. 

If you want to solicit feedback from your team members, create multiple channels to do so. Encourage employees to reach out via email or chat if they have any concerns. Ask questions in multiple ways—and at different times. With this method, an employee who otherwise wouldn’t offer feedback might feel more comfortable sharing their ideas. 

Thank Your Employees for Speaking Up

When your employees feel comfortable offering feedback, take time to acknowledge their efforts and thank them for sharing their ideas. If you know that an employee is shy or it’s not in their nature to offer constructive criticism, you can tell them directly how valuable their voice is. This small step will encourage your staff to bring up more ideas the next time they have them. 

If you cannot apply the feedback that your employees provide, set aside time to explain why along with thanking them for their ideas. This action shows that you thought about their ideas carefully and what implementing them would look like. 

This 5-minute discussion can prevent your employees from feeling like they weren’t heard. Furthermore, once they understand why an idea won’t work, they might be able to come up with a better one that will. 

It will take time for your employees to come to you with ideas—especially if you ignored them in the past. You want to nurture the behavior of accepting honest feedback so more people will offer it to you. 

Prove That Words Turn Into Actions

One of the fastest ways to prevent employees from providing feedback is to fail to act on it. According to the 2020 State of Employee Ideas by Sideways6, 80% of employees have ideas to improve the business, but a third feel like their ideas are ignored. In fact, more than half of employees say the company fails to act on good ideas. 

Your employees have plans to make your business run better. They want your company to grow or your department to function at a higher level. You just need to listen to them. 

Prove that you take employee feedback seriously. Bring up ideas that your employees have or show the action items you are taking based on their thoughts. This approach will build precedence within your organization and encourage more members of your team to speak up. 

Practice Accepting Feedback

The ability to accept feedback is a skill that few people have. It’s easy to get on the defensive when receiving criticism or ignore ideas when you first hear them. However, if you practice receiving feedback over time, you will get better at internalizing ideas and applying them to your business. 

You can start small when requesting feedback. Ask an employee whether they prefer email or phone communication. Ask a significant other for input on an outfit choice. These questions create training wheels that will prepare you to listen to take action when it comes time to respond to bigger issues. 

Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp.