If you’re a manager and you don’t ask for feedback on a regular basis, you’re probably doing some things that cause problems for your team members. That’s because we all have blind spots about our behavior. Leaders are especially vulnerable because their direct reports are often reluctant to speak up about problems their boss might be causing for them.
Occasionally you might figure out on your own that something you're doing has a negative impact on others, but typically, you’re going to need another person to point it out. Feedback from others helps you see what it's really like to be on the receiving end of your words and actions.
Take Jeff, for example.
Jeff owns a hotel in one of the New England states. Two years ago he was distressed about problems with his staff. There was a lot of absenteeism, and morale seemed quite low. He knew he wasn't getting the best from the managers and employees, but he didn't know why. He asked a consultant who uses our feedback software to set up an employee opinion survey. Jeff thought people would give honest input if they knew their responses would be anonymous and confidential. And he was right.
The results surprised him. It was a huge "wake-up" call that dramatically changed the way he viewed his team and ran his business.
One of Jeff's core values is treating people with respect. But the survey showed that people disliked coming to work because of the oppressive, controlling environment he'd created. Jeff was shocked to learn there was a huge gap between the culture he wanted and the one he'd actually created.
Before doing this survey, he had NO idea that people felt this way!
The good news is that Jeff used that information to think about what the staff really wanted from him. He asked the consultant to be his coach and help him make changes in his management style. Six months later, this consultant walked into the hotel and immediately sensed a difference in the attitudes of the people she encountered. Individuals came up to her and said that they loved coming to work now because the atmosphere at the hotel was totally different. Jeff was listening more and commanding less.
When she walked into Jeff's office, he came around from his desk and gave her a hug. He was beaming. He thanked her for the role she and the survey results had played in changing his life. Not only had he modified his behavior at work and improved his relationship with everyone there, his changes also had a profound impact on his relationship with his family.
Since the original survey two years ago, Jeff has continued to make improvements. He conducts surveys on a regular basis now to make sure he's on track with his behavior.
Jeff did four things right in his efforts to eliminate his blind spots and change his behavior.
#1. He had the courage to ask for feedback in the first place. Many of us would prefer not to know or we're afraid of what we might hear so we avoid asking.
#2. He was brutally honest with himself and took responsibility for his own actions. He didn't make excuses or try to justify his behavior.
#3. He made a commitment to change and then followed through. Sometimes we recognize that we need to change, but we never get around to doing anything about it.
#4. He asked for assistance while making the changes. He realized that a coach could reduce his learning curve and provide the support he needed.
You don't have to use a formal survey process to get feedback from the people who are important to you - your team members, co-workers, customers, family and friends. If people sense that you genuinely want to know so you can make changes to your behavior, you will get insights that can help you strengthen all of your relationships.
Leaders who ask for feedback from at least three people for this one question can get information that transforms their interactions with others: "What one thing could I do better that would make the biggest difference in our relationship?"