Ouch! Taking the Pain out of Employee Feedback.

employee feedback

A couple of years ago, my team had grown enough for me to receive my first employee feedback from employee opinion surveys. I was excited. It had been a busy and productive year and I had given it my all. And I'm a learning and development manager after all; I was confident that my scores would blow my peers away. But when I received them I was not only disappointed, but so demotivated it took me a couple of days to bounce back. Most importantly, I wasn't able to reap the benefits of the rich information available to me.

Since that time, I've come to see that the more I can stand looking at myself in that metaphorical 360-degree mirror, the more quickly I will become a better employee,  supervisor, leader, trainer. But it's certainly taken deliberate strategies on my part to fully embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If you're someone who finds your primitive brain takes over in employee feedback situations, some of these strategies may work for you.

Embrace Employee Feedback

The biggest shift I've made is to see employee feedback as a gift, a piece of information that I can incorporate into a fuller picture of how I show up as a leader. One piece of feedback is by no means the whole story, and it may, quite frankly, be an anomaly in the data I'm receiving. But I'm always grateful for it. It takes courage for people to provide feedback, and demonstrates a level of trust. I try to always treat their thoughts with respectful curiosity.

Remove Yourself From the Equation

There's no getting around it: feedback is personal. So it helps to try to imagine yourself as an objective third party. How would such a person characterize what this says about your performance? What are you doing well? Where are the areas of opportunity? This will allow you to distance yourself from your emotional response and better absorb the information.

Know Your Audience

Who are your raters? Extroverts tend to rate higher; introverts are a tougher audience. If you have a different rater pool, don't compare your scores to others. Treat your employee feedback with a grain (or maybe many grains) of salt, but also don't let that be an excuse for missing important trends.

Choose Your Timing Wisely

There are times of day when I am most open to feedback, and these are never at the end of a stressful demanding day. If I can, I save feedback for moments when my defenses are down and my best side is fully available. Often this means sleeping on it.

Look at the Comments

It's easy to get stuck on the numbers, particularly if they're juxtaposed against a neon sign saying "benchmark." But the richness of the data is often in the comments. If someone has written a comment, it's equivalent to a net promoter stake in the ground - there is something they really want me to know.  Time for me to shut up and listen.

Take Steps

A great way of moving past an emotional response to feedback is to see the pathway to action it provides. Is there something here I need to take action on? If so, what, when and how?  Once I put that on my to-do list, I can move forward.

In an environment in which big and small data provides multiple mirrors in which to see ourselves as leaders, our ability to interpret, and then quickly respond to employee feedback is becoming an increasingly critical competency. If this is something which is not yet a strength for you, I encourage you to proactively seek out and chew on all the feedback you can get. It gets easier the more you do it.

And you may just get to like the way you look.

Written by: Helen Zarba

About the Author

Helen Zarba at Bright Horizons

As Vice President, Organizational Development & Learning Services, Helen oversees the corporate Learning and Development Function at Bright Horizons and is also responsible for maximizing the impact of the enterprise-wide integrated talent management suite. Helen has played a pivotal development role at Bright Horizons for eight years and previous to that worked in senior HR and Learning and Development roles in domestic, European, and EMEA environments for BMW, Gillette and P&G. Helen is passionate about increasing the strategic impact of learning and development interventions, and exploring the use of technology to replicate the power of a high touch culture.