“Are we only asking for trouble by conducting a survey when we already know what the employee feedback is going to be?”

Our team are hearing this question more often and I myself have heard it twice within the last week, so I’ll relay the advice I offered the client who presented the thorniest conundrum to me: a major hospitality player that’s facing industry-wide issues they themselves are powerless to immediately improve.

This long-standing client has used Engagement Multiplier consistently over the years to create an engaged and resilient staff and has built a communications programme around their truly exemplary survey results.

So you will forgive me for being surprised when I learned that they have delayed surveying their team three times, for fear of asking for employee feedback when their hands are effectively tied.

I know this leadership team is not alone in feeling this way. All across the globe, our clients are treading the fine line between the impact the pandemic has had on people, and the realities of running their businesses and meeting customer demand.

Is asking for employee feedback like opening Pandora’s box? 

The concern I hear most often is that asking for employee feedback will make the whole situation worse. To those who fear they could open Pandora’s box by inviting employee input, I say this: it’s already open! The conversations are happening. The question at hand is a simple one: do you want to be part of that conversation, or do you prefer to believe it’s not happening?

From a leadership perspective, being part of the conversation that’s already happening means you’re able to get in that conversation. It’s happening anyway, so it’s not like you’re going to create a problem – you’re just going to be involved in it a bit more (and frankly, if that’s not a leader’s remit, I’m not sure what is.)

If you find yourself facing this conundrum, here’s my practical advice for rising to the challenge.

  • Adopt wartime footing. This is not an us versus them situation. In moments like these, it’s essential to develop a true esprit de corps and a “we’re all in this together” mentality. Be candid about the challenges at hand, and how the organisation is meeting them, and actions that have already been taken. Use this context to invite the team to share their ideas and feedback.
  • Realise when you ask for employee feedback there’s only ever one of two opportunities: either an opportunity to correct a misunderstanding or an opportunity to acknowledge a genuine issue. The challenges you are worried about will not be made worse by transparency. What will make them worse? The rampant rumor and speculation that fill the void when leadership is silent.
  • Authenticity will triumph. If a real issue is at hand, acknowledging it publicly is a critical first step. ‘Acknowledge’ is a very important word to focus upon. When genuine problems are publicly acknowledged and drawn out of the shadows and into the daylight, they often shrink a little bit. That’s not to say they go away, but there’s an element of ’the truth shall set you free,’ to this. When you’re transparent about the challenges with your team, you set the stage for authentic conversations as a group.
  • Ask appropriate questions. As proud as I am of our flagship Benchmark Assessment survey, I readily acknowledge it’s not appropriate for every situation. If the comprehensive assessment feels off the mark, instead, I recommend you craft a short, on-demand survey that focuses on the issues at hand.

When you follow honest communication about the challenges the business is facing by saying ‘We’re determined to emerge stronger with there are a few questions we’d like to ask you which will help us as a business to move forward,’ you are creating a powerful moment of connection with your employees by showing some human vulnerability and addressing them as peers. Focus on asking the one or two actions employees think are practical that could be implemented now, and chances are good you’ll garner some incredibly good ideas.

Moments like these are actually incredibly valuable opportunities for leaders to truly lead. Your people are looking for it, and by asking for their insights, you’ll be armed with the knowledge that makes for more confident decisions and more successful outcomes. Best of all, this approach will strengthen your employees’ connections to the company, bolster their trust and reinvigorate the culture.