For HR, Feedback Is a Gift. Here’s How to Get More of It

As a People Ops leader, I have a few overarching goals: improve employee retention; prevent potentially damaging issues from emerging; and keep our workforce healthy, happy, and engaged so we can do great work for our clients.

At the heart of all of these goals is employee feedback. Without having open and productive lines of communication with the JDM team, my job would be impossible. Thoughtful feedback helps my team stay on top of needs and challenges, reinforces what we think is working, tells us what isn’t working like we thought, and provides invaluable ideas for ways we can create a better workplace.

I’ve learned in my time in People Ops that getting good, consistent feedback goes far beyond sending out a survey every few months. In this post, I’ll discuss how we gather feedback, how we react to feedback to encourage more of it in the future, and what to do when we get feedback that we can’t (yet) act on.

Let’s dig in!

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How we collect feedback

We have a few avenues for gathering feedback. These include:

  • Monthly anonymous surveys that cover different topics: autonomy, management, benefits, teamwork, recognition. We also measure our eNPS during these surveys (and I’m happy to say that our eNPS score has steadily increased since we began measurement).
  • Employee check-ins: These are 1:1 meetings that the People Ops team conducts yearly with each employee, with the goal of identifying actionable trends and areas for improvement. 
  • Review debriefs: We conduct 1:1 meetings twice a year to get feedback on our semi-annual review process. 
  • 30/60/90-day new-hire check-ins: We check in while the hiring and onboarding processes are still fresh in new employees’ minds to get their input on what went well and what we can improve.

What we do with feedback

After we gather all possible feedback from the team, we summarize the information, present it to the leadership team to discuss next steps, then present the findings and next steps to the team at large. Even if we can’t take immediate action on the findings (which I’ll talk more about in a bit), we make sure the team knows what those findings are and why we can’t take action at that time.

Not all feedback constitutes a trend, of course; we often hear opinions that fall outside of the majority. In those instances, we strive to remember that perception equals reality, and people who have different experiences need to be heard – particularly when those experiences are negative. If the feedback is given anonymously, we don’t have much recourse other than to acknowledge it in a team setting so the person knows they’ve been heard. If we’re lucky enough to get the feedback face to face (or on Zoom, since we’re a remote company), we talk through the situation with the employee, get information about the circumstances, and encourage them to discuss it with the involved parties only if they are comfortable and if it is appropriate. (If it’s a highly sensitive matter, we escalate to our executives.) We also ask if we can check back in with them next time we talk.

 

Best practices for encouraging feedback (including future feedback)

Over my time in HR, I’ve learned ways to get better feedback in the moment and to ensure good feedback going forward.

When we send out surveys, we schedule reminders (because people are busy, and taking HR surveys is never their first priority). We explain why we’re sending the survey in the first place: why it’s important and how we plan to use the information we get. And, perhaps most importantly, we emphasize that our surveys are anonymous – psychological safety is key to getting honest, in-depth responses that people might be less willing to share otherwise.

When we have person-to-person meetings designed to elicit feedback, we make sure to set the tone at the beginning by reminding people why we’re meeting, what the goals of the meeting are, and what is (or isn’t) going to be shared, and with whom. We do our best to leave any preconceived ideas at the door so we can go into the meetings open to new thoughts and ideas. We listen and make sure to ask follow-up questions when we need more context.

Lastly, we always thank our colleagues at the end of the meeting. For one thing, everyone’s time is valuable, and we’re grateful for the time we get. For another, and as I know from personal experience, employees can feel genuine fear and vulnerability at the idea of giving honest feedback if they’ve experienced cultures where that feedback wasn’t honored or valued – or, worse, where it was used against them. Acknowledging that, and showing gratitude instead of defensiveness, will help reassure your colleagues that their feedback is in good, safe hands in your culture.

No matter how we gather the feedback, we owe our colleagues a couple of next steps: 1) we broadcast the results, including survey data and trends surfaced in 1:1 meetings; 2) we explain exactly what we’re going to do with that feedback so the team knows that it was worth their time to convey it. 

In other words, feedback does not simply go into the void – there’s no better way to undercut future feedback initiatives and to frustrate your colleagues than to ignore the feedback you get the first time around. 

 

How we handle feedback we can’t immediately address

That said, sometimes we have to explain that we’re not in the position to take immediate action. JDM preaches transparency with teammates, clients, and partners, and if we come across feedback that can’t be addressed because of resource limitations, I feel comfortable telling people that! (Although it’s often the case that the feedback touches on something we are working on or have planned for the near future, which I love because it means we’re on the right track.) 

If it is something that is not feasible for the business in the near future, I also am comfortable explaining why that likely won’t happen, but I always express thanks for the input and let them know we’ll take note of it in case circumstances make it more realistic down the road. This can still be frustrating for both parties (believe me, HR would love to take action on every cool initiative employees bring to us) – and in these circumstances, we need to remember that empathy is an essential complement to transparency.

Ultimately, the most important component in soliciting and receiving feedback is making sure you approach every bit of feedback you get as a gift. I think we’ve all had previous employers where we felt like our opinions weren’t valued and nothing changed; it’s probably part of the reason they are previous employers. If you’re dreading the answers you might get when you send out a survey, or if you’re asking for information that you have no plan to address, take a step back and put yourself in a better position to treat that feedback with the respect it deserves.

 


 

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