So, how am I doin? Former NY mayor Ed Koch popularized the question during his famous walks around town. What happens when you ask your employees for feedback about your performance? They tell you how wonderful you are but then when they get a survey or some other anonymous way of expressing their opinion, they surprise you with some negative, even shocking feedback. It's now clear that on some topics they are just not able to honestly discuss face-to-face. It can really hurt, especially when you feel you want people to be honest with you. But wishing does not make it so.
What is your next step? Your mind can conjure up all kinds of understandable reasons why they were not honest with you face-to-face. But their lack of honesty is a fact and you have got to decide how you will respond. Wasn't it easier when you were not "the boss"? You can ignore it and hope it doesn't cause you any trouble. You can criticize the survey and discredit the results. Or, you can design a strategy so that over time, being honest with you face-to-face is easier, less painful for them. If that is the way you decide to go, here are six strategies that always help to develop honest communication.
Admit your mistakes. Acknowledge that you make some mistakes that may at times put your employees in a difficult place. Apologize. This makes you more human and easier to approach with good news and bad.
Listen to your employees. Be sensitive to their communication both verbal and non-verbal. Sometimes they may say one thing one time but act in a very different way. This is an opportunity to let them know that you are paying attention... completely. You care about what their experience is and you want to make it as positive as possible. Demonstrate your willingness to change personally and also to change the conditions of work.
Solicit the opinion of your employees. Be strategic... don't start out by asking them their opinion on something that might be hard for them to answer. Make it easy for them to share their true opinion. Sometimes you can announce in advance what you would like to hear about. That way they can prepare what they want to say ahead of time.
Mine for negativity or varied opinion. When their opinions seem overwhelmingly unanimous, it's a good clue that not everyone is being honest. Push the issue. "Surely, some of you must have a different opinion."
Don't punish bad news or challenge it... or argue with it. In fact, when things go wrong, or when mistakes are made, it can be a real opportunity to change and learn. So, welcome and celebrate the reporting of bad news.
Finally, get to know people personally. When you know and like someone personally, it is easier to be understood. Begin every staff meeting with some personal sharing of some kind; everyone invited to participate including you. People are always in charge of how much personal information they share in the workplace, but encourage it. Over time, this sharing bonds a group together in remarkable ways. Positive personal relationships can be the breeding ground for honesty, so the next time that anonymous staff satisfaction survey comes around, there will not be any surprises.