by Mary C. Schaefer

Do you know how to get real feedback?

Sep 13, 2016

You have enough on your plate without asking for more. Yet, asking for feedback can reap magical results.

“Mary, give me some feedback.” This is from Lydia, my favorite coffee shop manager, who I visit on a daily basis.

She asks me this three to five times a week. One day the café was a little quiet, so I asked her what inspires her to ask. Let’s all listen closely to the role model leader at my coffee shop. She told me things like this:

  • It doesn’t matter what I think is great or correct if it’s not having a positive effect on customers, the company or fellow employees.
  • I want to make sure I’m focusing on the right things for all my stakeholders.
  • It makes my employees more comfortable with me. When something is really wrong, they know they can tell me without it blowing up.

Notice she uses the terms “fellow employees.” When I asked her about that, she said, “We are all here to get work done. I just happen to guide things.”

She also said if she keeps asking she will know whether she’s making progress or not. I know when I’ve had feedback for her, it’s sometimes because something new has occurred. Lydia then gets a heads up before it escalates. She also doesn’t take for granted the state of the café. It’s not static.

If you are a supervisor, leverage Lydia’s practice

If you regularly ask your employees for feedback, it opens the door for you to offer them feedback.

Returning to Lydia’s point about creating comfort in discussing feedback — if you regularly offer your employees feedback, when something big comes up, the experience of hearing feedback is not new to them. They feel safe because they’re accustomed to hearing feedback from their supervisor. In fact, it can feel like the boss is doing them a favor, depending on the nature of the relationship and how the feedback is delivered.

Don’t take for granted the effect of your role model leadership. When employees see you asking for feedback, they are more likely to ask for feedback — from the boss and others. I’ve seen it happen. Lydia also invites customers to give her co-workers feedback. And customers do. I’ve seen this too.

What drives this role model leader?

I asked Lydia what else was driving this behavior. It is so unusual, refreshing and smart.

People give lip service to customer service, customer experience and excellence. Lydia lives it. I would say that Lydia wants her customer experience to be impeccable. She wants to serve her employer impeccably. She wants her fellow employees to want this as much as she does.

She also wants to be a strong leader. She told me, “I like to know I’m heard by others. So when my employees make a suggestion or ask a question, I don’t like to leave them hanging. I empathize with this, but I also know it impacts my ability to influence them.”

Put some thought into creating this dynamic

Among other things, I think Lydia majored in Human Nature. For those who aren’t so fortunate, start thoughtfully.

Don’t just jump in. Tell people you are going to begin asking for constructive feedback and why.  Ask them to tell you one thing that’s going well and one thing that can be improved. Depending on your relationship, ask them if they are open to feedback too. Before long, you will have created a virtual cycle of encouragement and improvement in your work and working relationships.