As managers and leaders, we want to know what the people in our organization are thinking, the questions they have, and what they are excited and concerned about. We want to be open to open to hearing all of this and have the opportunity to respond. Most of us have tried different approaches to collecting feedback with mixed results. I want to share the single best way that I have ever seen to collect and respond to feedback.

What you will learn…

  1. The best approach to collecting feedback from people in your organization
  2. How to structure and run the meeting
  3. What it feels like to the people who are participating

Traditional Ways to Collect Feedback

I have used many ways to collect and respond to feedback. Below are a few examples.

  • Surveys, followed by an email with the results, my comments, and what we will do differently moving forward. This is valuable as it is typically anonymous and therefore you often get genuine feedback. But the results are impersonal and tend to be pretty limited – responding to only a subset of the feedback.
  • All hands meetings with Q&A scheduled at the end. This can be valuable as it relates to the content of the all-hands meeting, but not to other topics that may be on the minds of the people in your organization.
  • Skip level 1:1s. This is valuable in building relationships with members of your organization. But the feedback is not anonymous and therefore is often very watered down. It is not a good approach to getting a larger sense of what is going well and not as well in the organization.

These are valuable and worth continuing. But I recently worked for a manager that does something that is incredibly effective.

The Best Way to Collect and Respond to Feedback

Schedule several one or one-and-a-half-hour meetings with 7-15 people each from different teams. Send out a meeting invite far enough ahead of time to ensure that most will be able to attend. It is ideal to have everyone in person for the meeting, but it is possible to have remote participants. I talk about this below.

When you send out the invite, my recommendation is not to describe the process. It tends to work better informal and interactive. Let the invitees know that you want to hear how things are going and have an opportunity to share your thoughts.

You might want to bring along one or more of your managers and/or HR. How you do this is completely up to you. Do what makes you and the people that you invite comfortable. If you are at a remote site and there is a leader or manager responsible for the site, it is often good to have them come along.

Set the room up before everyone shows up. This is simple. Make sure there are enough chairs. Spread out on the table pads of large sticky notes (or index cards). Provide enough pens for everyone.

Kick off the meeting by letting them know that the time is theirs. You what to hear how things are going, what is working and what is not, what concerns they have about the organization, the company, the industry, and whatever they want to spend time on. Explain how the meeting will be structured.

  • There are sticky notes and pens on the table
  • You want them to write down whatever they want to cover in the meeting, one thought, question, or concern per sticky
  • They can add their name or leave it anonymous
  • You (and anyone that came with you) are going to leave for about 5 minutes
  • When you return you will quickly review and group all of the sticky notes
  • And spend the remainder of the time going through them and responding

As you go through each item you will have to be thoughtful about how long you spend. It is likely that a number of sticky notes will end up being related, so even if the pile looks large when you first come back into the room, you will likely end up with 7-10 topics that you will want to cover.

What you have just received is awesome feedback. The first thing that you need to say is “Thank You!” They have provided you with insight that is incredibly valuable. Go through each grouping one at a time, summarize the feedback (it is ok to quickly read the sticky notes or put it in your own words), and respond to it. Be open and honest. It is ok to ask for some clarification but be careful as some people may not want to say anything – remain anonymous.

Example: Hard Question

Much of the feedback that you receive will be pretty straight forward to hear and address. ISometimes you will get feedback that is painful to hear and hard to address.

One example of this was about a rumor that we would go through another round of layoffs. I knew that the rumor was correct, but it was confidential and therefore I could not talk about it. At the same time, if I did not answer truthefully, my credibility and trust would be impacted.

The way I addressed this was to explain that I am not able to answer this kind of question as it is confidential. What I did instead is talk about how the company strategy and how it aligns budgets to this. I talked about the kinds of things that our organization does and how they fit into the larger strategy. And I closed by saying that – whatever we get, we will do our best to help the company to be successful

End the meeting by thanking everyone again. If you committed to taking action based on the feedback, let them know how you will communicate progress against your committed actions.

Remote Participants

If you have a team that is spread across different locations, time zones and even geographies, you have two choices. You can schedule in-person meetings in locations where everyone can be in the same room. Or you can follow the model described below to ensure everyone is able to fully participate.

  • Find a time zone-friendly time
  • Use video – it is more personal
  • Ask someone in the room to capture sticky notes from the remote attendee(s)
    • Have the remote attendee write down their questions and send them to someone local
    • The local person then writes these down on sticky notes
  • Include these sticky notes with the rest
  • Make sure during the discussion that you look at the remote attendee(s) and invite their participation

Since the team is distributed, there is a good chance that many of these practices are already in place.

The Importance of Being Open

This method of collecting feedback will only work if you are open to listening and not reacting or disagreeing. You need to take the position that feedback is feedback. It is not about whether it is right or wrong. It is a question, comment, or concern that one or members of your team have.

Your role is to take the feedback, thank them for it. Be as open and transparent as you can about any action that you will take. That might be as simple as sharing more about the process that led to a decision. It could be to communicate more broadly the strategy. It could be to make a change. Whatever the response is, you have to be thankful for the feedback, especially if you had not heard it before, and describe how it will be addressed.

How the Participants will Feel

The best way to build a high-performing team or organization is to ensure that they understand how their work fits into the larger purpose and goals of the company and that they trust and believe in their leadership. Teams and organizations that have this will go above and beyond.

The approach described above to collect and respond to feedback is a key component of developing trust. The individuals who participate will feel like you care. They will get to know you better, understand your priorities and feel more connected to the company. They will know that their concerns have been heard. And they will know the kinds of things that you will do to address these concerns.

They will feel really good about the experience. They will leave energized and share this with others.

See Also

Making the Most of All Hands Meetings

Gary O’Neall – Started as a Big Company Software Developer. Now Runs His Own Business

Greg Siu – Manager Turned Consultant


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