Create a Culture Where Employees Ask for Feedback

By Beatrice Calvin

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference on Learning & Leadership Development. It was a great experience. Of course, not all the speakers were setting the world on fire with their presentations. However, some of the speakers were amazing. Throughout the conference, I picked up several nuggets of information involving creative ways of thinking about a variety of workforce situations.

One idea that I heard at the conference resonated with me. It was the notion that organizations can experience significant improvement and growth in their employees and in the organization, if they can change their process of giving feedback. One presenter suggested that a better way to manage feed back is to create a culture where employees get into the habit of asking for feedback on a consistent basis instead of waiting for the dreaded annual performance review.

The idea behind this concept is that when you give feedback, you need people to be their calmest so that their brain can do complex thinking. When you begin a conversation with “Can I give you some feedback?,” you set in motion the person’s auto-response system.  According to one session presenter, you shut down the person’s ability to think about change because they automatically feel threatened when they hear those words. Their heart rate increases. Their defenses go up. Any number of things could be going through the person’s mind. They could be thinking, “Uh, oh… What did I do wrong?”  They are likely rehearsing their response to your comments. They may feel blind-sided. You inadvertently create a space where the person may close down at a time he/she should be open. Any active listening skills fly right out of the window with your words.

Instead, the presenter suggested that if an employee asks for feedback, she will be much less anxious. According to neuroscience, studies show that people are more receptive to feedback when they ask for it. This then implies that managers should encourage their employees to ask for specific feedback. For example, at the end of a presentation, an employee might ask her manager, “Would you give me your perspective on how you think I connected with the audience?”  This process allows the employee to be more open-minded and willing to accept ideas for change–which can lead to personal growth.

It might be a good idea if an employee gets into the habit on a weekly basis of asking her manager for their perspective on one thing she does well, and then one thing she might change. Naturally, managers want their employees to learn from their failures and strive to improve work performance. Better feedback conversations that begin by having employees ask for feedback may be the key.

For more details on how this idea of employees asking for feedback might work, read the article, Brain-friendly employee feedback turning the tide at Microsoft.