Chances are that you and your company have employee focus groups or anonymous Q&A sessions at all-hands meetings. Perhaps you and other leaders make clear to employees that your doors are always open if anything is on their mind?
A recent article by Benjamin Jackson, founder of a New York-based people consultancy, argues that these methods don’t work. He raises some valid points (and has a great tip about ‘stay interviews’ which we’ll also get into).
Jackson’s issue is with what he calls ‘passive listening’. The flaw, he says, is that the methods mentioned above place the burden on employees to bring forward criticisms, often to those who have power over their professional development. This ‘all but guarantees some employees will choose silence over candour’, particularly more marginalised ones.
In this situation, everyone loses. Not only do employees fail to get their voices heard, but by closing off channels of critical feedback, leaders get a false sense of the state of their teams and organisations. Everything’s not ok, they’re just not being told about the problems.
Jackson urges leaders to move more towards ‘proactive listening’, where leaders reach out to employees directly for feedback on specific issues, and in 1:1 environments rather than public forums.
So what does this mean for you as a manager?
We think the article is a timely reminder to reflect on whether you’re getting much feedback from your team on your performance and their general satisfaction with the company. If you’re not, is it because everything’s perfect (unlikely)? Or is it because the ways in which you’ve asked for it ask quite a lot of your team.
If it’s the latter, then moving towards a more active approach may get people talking a little more, and you could learn a lot.
As a specific ‘active’ tactic, Jackson mentions the concept of ‘Stay Interviews’, the more positive sibling of the ‘Exit Interview’. As you might surmise, whilst exit interviews try to find out the reasons for employees leaving, stay interviews are conversations to work out why people stick around.
We think it’s a very valuable conversation to have - particularly with high performers who have been on your team for a reasonable period of time. Find out what the magic sauce is to working on your team so you can reinforce those positive behaviours in the future.