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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small business: Soliciting employee feedback

Soliciting employee feedback can be a great way

Soliciting employee feedback can be a great way to engage employees and gain a better understanding of how to run your business, experts say. Credit: iStock

With limited time and resources, it's not always easy to keep your finger on the pulse of every aspect of your business.

You only have one set of eyes and ears, and sometimes you need a different perspective to help achieve goals, correct underlying problems and find new efficiencies.

Soliciting employee feedback can be a great way to engage employees and gain a better understanding of how to run your business, experts say.

"Typically the people who are doing the job day in and day out often know best on how it needs to be done," says Jerry S. Siegel, president of JASB Management Inc., a Syosset-based business management learning and development firm. "When management utilizes some of their thoughts, ideas and suggestions, it can lead to significant change, innovation and improvement."

But all too often that's not the case. "The value of employee feedback is underrated by many leaders," notes employee communication expert Linda Dulye, president of Dulye & Co., a Warwick, N.Y.-based change-management consultancy. "Many companies mistake the annual employee survey as sufficient enough for getting feedback."

Continual feedback a must. But getting feedback only once a year isn't sufficient, she says, adding it should be ongoing.

There are various ways to garner feedback. For one, consider a workplace walk-around program, Dulye says. She implemented such a program for Rolls-Royce Engine Services' Oakland, Calif., division, in which top executives spent 30 minutes in different work areas of the organization every week to meet with employees and listen to them, she notes.

The one-on-one is key, Dulye says, noting leaders need to change their mindsets to "conversations, not presentations." She believes companies would be best served by reducing by 50 percent the number of PowerPoint presentations they have and replacing them with actual conversations.

Redesign employee meetings to accommodate feedback. Actually put it on the agenda, she says, and let employees know what type of feedback you're seeking.

Consider holding team meetings without management present, Siegel suggests. For instance, hold a sales meeting without the sales manager and have someone designated to report back to the manager on the findings, he notes. People may be more willing to speak openly this way, Siegel says.

Start creating conversations. Sometimes, it helps to get people out of the office setting to create conversations, says Greg Smith, president of Chart Your Course International, an organizational development firm in Conyers, Ga., and author of "Fired Up! Leading Your Organization to Achieve Exceptional Results" (Chart Your Course Publications; $24.95).

Take employees to breakfast or lunch, he suggests. Consider putting up "What makes our day difficult" sheets in the break room, where employees can write down any issues, he says, and try to fix things on the list. Don't penalize workers for their honesty, or they won't offer feedback again, Smith says.

By listening, you can change workplace attitudes, he notes.

For instance, when Jeffrey Pliskin of Pliskin Realty & Development, a commercial real estate firm, was planning his office space configuration for the firm's move to Garden City, he started out thinking he wanted an open desk style "bullpen" set up.

"That got shot down quickly," he notes. Employees wanted offices and he listened.

"I want to have everybody feel like they have an ownership interest," Pliskin says, adding he's taken staff suggestions in infrastructure improvements and hiring. "If they're happy . . . they'll be more productive, and that makes me more productive."

 

When seeking out feedback

Be mindful of body language when talking to employees. DON'T:

1. Check your smartphone while they're talking

2. Look away/drift off while they're speaking

3. Cross your arms and look stern while engaging with them

4. Visibly express disapproval if the employee's complaining (i.e. shaking your head)

5. Appear harried and rushed

Source: Dulye and Co.

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