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6 ways to hear your staff out



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We’re well into the beginning of 2014, and companies everywhere are implementing new processes, systems and initiatives.

But one of the biggest things leaders cannot overlook is the need to ensure great communication among employees.

Good ideas, great feedback – both negative and positive – and solutions to old and new problems can come from anywhere and anyone. Have you got the proper systems in place to make sure you catch all of them?

1. Make it accessible and comfortable for staff to give feedback
Often, the biggest gripe about giving feedback is anonymity and the ease of doing so. Particularly in terms of giving negative feedback, employees may decide to bite their tongue in fear of backlash. This may even happen with good ideas if the culture in the office isn’t support or conducive for brainstorming, as employees many worry about their ideas being rejected.

Consider creating avenues which make it easy and safe for employees to give you feedback. This could take the form of a suggestion box, or online system where staff can submit notes anonymously.

2. Get together
Once in a while, take an employees out individually for lunch or coffee to have a chat outside the office walls. Remember to keep it casual and relaxed, and off the record.

Even if nothing particularly constructive is discussed, it makes for a great relationship building tool between the employee and yourself – which will, in the long run, build up to a situation where employees feel comfortable coming to you with an idea or problem.

3. Admit when you need help
You may be the boss but it doesn’t mean you’re above asking for help. Sometimes, the only way out of a problem is to source for solutions.

Make sure your team members know you trust their judgement and value their opinions by asking for their thoughts on a problem you may be facing. They may not be able to come up with a end-all solution, but it will help you see your predicament from a different point of view.

4. Never break someone’s trust
There may be occasions where an employee comes to you with a problem in confidence. While you will be obliged to address the issue or raise it with upper management, try and honour your promise to the employee and not reveal their identity.

However, if the need arises that you will have to tell someone further up the organisation, clear it with the employee first. This is a fine line, but breaching an employee’s trust will almost definitely shut the door to further honest conversations in the future.

5. Never say no
They say there is no such thing as a stupid idea or question, and this rings true in organisations today. An employee may present an idea that may not be feasible just yet or may actually make no business sense.

Instead of immediately turning down their idea, schedule some time to see if there are possibilities to expand or rework that idea so it becomes useful to the company. Again, you may be headed down a dead-end, but that five or 10 minutes spent with the employee goes a long way in showing you consider them (and their ideas) valuable.

6. Act on it
Investing in communication channels for employees will be useless if you don’t take action. Not only will this make it seem as though the upper management do not care what employees have to say, it will severely taper down the inflow of ideas and suggestions.

Implement a formal structure where senior leaders or line managers spend time working on action plans based on feedback gleaned from the organisation, and share these with the rest of the company so they know you’re walking the talk.



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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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