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May 30, 2011

Honest employee feedback without going undercover


Is going under cover with a fake name, different haircut and new glasses really the best way for senior management to get honest feedback from their employees? I think not.

“Finally, I am able to get honest feedback from employees throughout the company”.

The quote is taken from a recent episode of the Norwegian version of Undercover Boss. The senior executive of a large, Norwegian company has decided to go undercover. He will travel around to work together with colleagues throughout the company for one week in order to get honest feedback on how it is to work for the company.

By watching TV-shows like Undercover Boss, I am left with two conclusions: How to collect and act upon honest feedback from employees is a hot potato (the ratings for the show are amazing!) and, second, companies are struggling to find effective ways to listen to their employees and transform this feedback into action.

The challenge: Honesty

During his week among staff, the senior executive gets valuable and important feedback related to working conditions, possible improvements in manufacturing processes as well as honest opinions about the company’s restructuring strategies. He concludes that it would be impossible to receive the same honest feedback if he had turned up and introduced himself as their superior.

I am inclined to agree with the manager on this conclusion. And I must give credit to the company for trying to collect this honest feedback. But I think companies must introduce far more effective initiatives if they aim at creating a long term value of listening to their employees.

Collect and Act!

Collecting honest feedback from your employees is not that difficult. Let me give you a few tips on how to succeed with this:

1) Enable your employees to provide feedback on an ongoing basis. While the annual Employee Engagement Survey may serve some purposes, e.g. measurements of overall satisfaction in the company, it cannot serve this purpose.

2) Let your employees provide anonymous feedback. Again, it’s all about honesty. Some employees prefer to provide feedback and suggestions anonymously, while some prefer to flag who they are. Give your employees the choice!

3) Act, Act, Act! The success of these initiatives rests solely on your organization’s ability to act on the feedback that is collected! If you don’t have routines to follow up the feedback from your employees, don’t ask in the first place!

4) Highlight improvements. After implementing suggestions from your employees, make sure to highlight the improvements internally. This way, you demonstrate that employee feedback is welcome, and you show that the management is serious about receiving and acting upon this feedback.

How does your company collect honest feedback from your employees? And do you act upon it?

This post is originally written for QuestBack’s blog on feedback management –

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