Employee Feedback

Finding value in bi-directional employee feedback

February 27, 2023

RESOURCES Finding value in bi-directional employee feedback

Providing feedback is a part of any manager’s job, but the opportunities to do so are traditionally limited to yearly performance reviews or times when an employee is reprimanded for a mistake. Employers of frontline, retail, and office workers have begun to shorten that horizon by taking advantage of tools such as pulse or engagement surveys which give employees a chance to share their views more frequently. Our research has found that while those tools are invaluable toward building a great culture, workers are still looking for their managers to close the loop on pressing matters so that they feel their voice is heard and see action being taken.

It’s an unfortunate truth that as someone moves their way up the organizational hierarchy they tend to receive less feedback, this is especially for frontline workers as they advance in their career. Other times, employees may not feel comfortable sharing candid feedback for fear of retribution and leadership may not create opportunities to receive feedback. As supervisors advance in their career, employees and former peers may not feel comfortable sharing feedback directly either. Employees might fear retribution, may not believe their opinion can drive change, may have trauma from a previous hostile work environment, or simply may not have a suitable channel to provide feedback.

A culture where bi-directional feedback exists is one of the most powerful ways for leaders to unlock their full potential and that of their teams. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to management, yet many leaders believe that if two employees do their respective parts and all else is equal that the productivity of the organization will naturally increase. More people doing the same job under the same conditions should equal exponential output, right? In reality, those employees need to be engaged independently, have their own paths to success, and their own unique challenges. The work of one directly affects the work of the other. Now multiply that by any number of employees, and you see how traditional feedback methods fail to expand upon the systems that work and correct those which don’t in a timely manner.

Bi-directional feedback gives power back to your employees by providing them with the space to communicate their concerns, celebrate wins, and build relationships with their leaders. After all, not every great idea within an organization comes directly from the CEO, and not every problem can be solved by management alone. Companies who provide space for their workers to freely engage, who welcome creative ideas, and who understand that the employee-manager relationship is pivotal to the success of the organization will avoid falling back on antiquated solutions to solve new problems.

Building a winning culture with bi-directional employee feedback

A failed feedback system is a monologue where the manager’s input is trapped in an echo chamber that employees can listen to, but not engage with. Bi-directional feedback turns that lecture into a dialogue, where both sides are heard and meaningful action can be taken as a result. Building a collaborative environment not only increases mutual respect, but amplifies a leader’s potential as stronger relationships develop. A company is a collective where every voice matters, so it is important for team members to have faith that leadership cares about their opinions and development, otherwise employees are at risk of detachment.

A positive culture starts with leaders who are open to fielding the feedback of their team members, empathetic to happenings in an employee’s personal life, and able to build a system that works on a case-by-case basis. After all, no one wants to open up to someone who is consistently critical, demeaning, or authoritarian. Bi-directional feedback helps leadership demonstrate transparency, authenticity, and a willingness to collaborate – encouraging an open dialogue. Continuous feedback provides space to celebrate successes across teams and build trust, leading to more engagement opportunities, better employee sentiment, and improved production which all trickles down to a better customer experience as well.

Feedback should focus on the positive aspects of what an employee or manager is doing, and while there may be some inevitable discussions about negative behavior, it is vital to frame those conversations in a way that helps all parties move forward in stride. No individual should dread the moment when a manager calls them into the office and they should never leave that engagement with their morale defeated. Rather, they should feel open to discussion and leave with a deeper understanding of the expectations of either side.

Our research has shown that employees whose survey responses has been flagged as an alert are over 30% more likely to turn over within the next 90 days. However, those same workers see a 28% relative drop in turnover if they see a response from their leader vs. no response. Digging a bit deeper, our data shows that employees who receive a reply to their survey response are 14% more likely to have increased sentiment toward that theme on their next survey. These insights clearly highlight the significant impact a bi-directional feedback system where employees can voice concerns and employers can close the loop has on improving retention.

Incorporating a bi-directional feedback system is about improving a team’s journey to success and it is a manager’s job to trailblaze that path. In a culture where employees feel open to suggesting a way forward and leaders steer them toward actions that drive results, feedback becomes more concrete. Leaders should use these opportunities to reinforce positive behavior by celebrating successes on team-wide or site-specific channels, shedding a spotlight on the processes everyone should adopt to thrive in their particular role. Great organizations use bi-directional feedback to build a winning culture by earning the trust of their employees, sustaining productivity, and aligning on company goals.

Taking full advantage of bi-directional feedback

For a workforce to improve at-scale, both managers and employees have to be willing and able to receive feedback on how well they fulfill their obligations and how others are affected. This comes with the understanding that roles evolve with the times, technology, and even with the particular people who are on your team. Leaders who take advantage of bi-directional feedback allow themselves to think outside of their own experience. They understand tactics which may have worked with a previous team five years ago may not work for this one and that it is their job to clarify and negotiate expectations with their team on a regular basis.

We are all imperfect people building organizations the best we are capable of, and to that end, there is no such thing as a perfect end-to-end solution. Even an organization’s top performing team has room for improvement – be it fewer mistakes, less workplace accidents, quicker trailer load time, or even something simple like reducing the aggregate hours lost to late lunches. Building a line for two-way communication helps build trust, maintain accountability, identify performance gaps, and highlight more of what works so that the rest of the organization can emulate that success. Benefits of continuous employee-manager communication:

  • Prevent misunderstandings and one-directional thinking by maintaining an open dialogue of expectations, pain points, areas of improvement, and results.
  • Boost collaboration and break down silos by providing channels for employees to communicate freely, align on their goals, and collaborate on best-practices.
  • Improve employee engagement by getting employees and managers involved in open dialogue, reducing the amount of people in your workforce who feel disconnected from making an impact.
  • Increase employee sentiment by providing an outlet for employees to express their concerns, share insights, opinions, and see their input drive change.
  • Bolster trust between employees and managers by building authentic relationships
  • Provide clarity about tasks, ongoing projects, and roadblocks that are creating production issues.

Traditional workplace feedback culture is a one-way channel built on evasion and anxiety where employees hear nothing but the worst while managers are blindly confident in their leadership despite having little outside input. A successful bi-directional feedback system starts with leadership building a culture where everyone involved knows that not all feedback is negative. While feedback can feel personal, even hurtful when targeted, it is vital to train managers and employees alike to see it as a growth opportunity. No matter who is providing feedback, be it an employee or a manager, the end-goal should be to communicate areas of improvement, boost morale, and discover how those involved can achieve more together. Spending these engagement opportunities relentlessly breaking down weaknesses, skirting around difficult topics, or trying to save face by offering up a “praise sandwich” too often leads to a fight or flight response, defensive walls being put up, and stifled growth as an organization.

Opening up the floor for open communication between employees and managers removes the veil of obscurity that authority innately creates and provides both parties with a clear path forward. Great feedback is a two-way conversation and the ability for leadership to use this tool effectively is a learned art that takes deliberate practice, trial, and error. Bi-directional feedback unlocks more voices, giving everyone involved a finger on the pulse of an organization in which they are the lifeblood.

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Tom Goyette

Tom Goyette, Product Marketing Manager | tom.goyette@workstep.com

Tom Goyette is a Product Marketing Manager at WorkStep. With experience in start-up and enterprise level SaaS and eCommerce organizations, Tom excels at managing and creating content, marketing, and analytics. Tom believes people are at the center of every great organization and is eager to share stories that highlights the value of the employee voice.