Feedback is a crucial part of the continuous improvement cycle that drives organisational performance.
HR has an important role to play in helping embed the role of feedback within the organisation, but there are things that line managers can do too.
“Do I manage you in a way that gets the best out of you?”
This question allows an employee to speak openly, without them feeling like they are criticising you. It invites them to discuss your style’s appropriateness to them, rather than your general competence. This makes it more likely they will speak honestly.
This is a valuable learning opportunity to find out more about your direct report’s likes and dislikes, which should influence your management of them across all domains, from recognition and reward to delegation.
Encourage the employee to comment on specific areas or projects in which you may not have managed them in the best way; this gives you concrete examples of what to say or do differently in the future.
“Do you feel you’re getting as much as you can out of your job?”
This is an open-ended question and, interestingly, the employee’s first thoughts will give you an insight into what is most frustrating them or the things in the workplace that they most value.
For example, if they immediately talk about learning opportunities, this will influence the attention you give their learning and development.
By understanding what enables your employee to perform at an optimal level, you’re able to better design tasks and projects to suit their strengths and ways of working.
You can also direct the employee to discuss different areas, after their initial answer, to get specific feedback on various parts of the overall employee experience. Do they feel fairly rewarded and recognised? Are they sufficiently challenged? Do they feel the workplace is collaborative or innovative?
“Where do our strengths and weaknesses lie as a team?”
This question helps managers explore team dynamics through the eyes of employees, which can uncover interpersonal friction and communication challenges.
It allows colleagues to bring up negative comments in the wider context of team dynamics, which is far easier than directly criticising someone.
Managers can also get a good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members, including their interpersonal abilities, by asking this question to all members and looking for patterns.
“Where do you think this [idea/project] could fall down?”
Even when leaders and managers insist they are open to feedback, employees still don’t feel comfortable giving it. This is important to note because it means managers must come up with questions that make honesty feel less risky to employees.
This question focuses on specific ideas, rather than the people suggesting the ideas, and people are much more comfortable criticising ideas (particularly when they can judge them against objective criteria, such as organisational goals) than people and personalities.
This question essentially asks for contextual criticism – you are asking someone to explain in detail why something won’t work. When people bring evidence to bear, the criticism feels less emotionally-driven and therefore less personal.
“Were you able to perform at your best?”
By understanding what enables your employee to perform at an optimal level, in a state of flow, you’re able to better design tasks and projects to suit their strengths and ways of working.
When people bring evidence to bear, the criticism feels less emotionally-driven and therefore less risky.
This question is designed to get an employee to critique their own performance on a task or project with reference to both internal factors (such as lack of knowledge) and external factors (such as lack of support).
Both are useful to you as a manager. If the employee says a lack of understanding hampered their performance, you may change the way you delegate to encourage their self-directed learning, whilst also providing access to key learning resources.
The answer to this question also makes you better placed to clear obstacles the employee is less confident dealing with.
“What are your strengths and how could you build on them?”
This question has three outputs. It’s designed to get the employee to be self-reflective, to recognise their strengths and – from this recognition – feel positive about their job and place in the organisation.
Secondly, it gives you as the line manager an opening to help your direct report recognise strengths they may not realise they have, but also point out areas they could improve on.
Thirdly, it allows the manager to identify their own strengths and areas for improvement and, from this, invite the employee’s feedback on both of these areas.