One of the most common phrases good managers will use in regard to employee feedback is, “My door is always open.” It’s meant as an indication that no matter what, they’re willing to hear from employees if something is challenging them, bothering them, or even if there’s a great idea they want to share up the pipeline.
But just because the door is open, doesn’t mean your staff is going to feel comfortable walking through it. Getting employee feedback from your restaurant staff requires actively seeking it out, not just passively waiting for it to happen. And for it to be real — and useful to you — it requires managers to adjust their own perceptions and behavior around receiving employee feedback.
Here are seven steps to developing a workplace environment that encourages productive employee feedback.
1. Encourage real honesty.
It’s a common misconception in the workplace that conflict is always bad. Yes, animosity and anger can have detrimental effects on your business, but not all conflict is negative. Sometimes, conflict between employees, including between managers and staff, can be productive, especially if it’s understood as welcomed and handled by all parties with respect for each other.
Accept that conflict can help along positive change, and ask your staff for respectful pushback and dissent when they disagree. Handle business disagreements out in the open (out of sight of the customer, of course), and leave anonymity to more private personnel issues.
Suggestion boxes are great for customers who don’t have the opportunity to interact with you on a daily basis, but restricting employee feedback to be read at a later date, often anonymously, can breed contempt and suspicion. Without the moderation of tone that happens with an open conversation, or the freedom to speak up when an issue is actually pertinent, your employees may feel their feedback isn’t valued, even with an outlet to provide it.
2. Pay attention.
Non-verbal cues can be as loud as words. The facial expressions and body language of your employees can be useful feedback all on their own, if you learn how to read it. Pay special attention when body language feels like it doesn’t match up with the words you’re hearing. You could be misinterpreting tone, or you could have a staff person that doesn’t feel comfortable being honest (but can’t hide their true feelings well). This is your opportunity to subtly remind your employees that you truly value their honest feedback, even if it involves something they consider harsh truths.
3. Question your inner narration.
Are you constantly telling yourself things are fine? Do you brush off worries your staff shares as inconsequential? You could be seeing what you want to see, not what actually is — and discouraging employee feedback in the process. If you find yourself making snap judgments in your head, try to challenge your own perceptions privately, in order to be open to the perspectives of your employees publicly.
But also be sure not to imagine problems where there aren’t any. That could discourage openness among your staff just as easily, as they may be resistant to bringing up small impact items for fear they could becomes “mountains made out of molehills.” It’s a critical balance to manage, but one that’s incredibly easier to maintain if you keep honest and open communication a priority.
4. Be honest about your own blindspots.
If you know you have particular buttons that are easily pushed, or certain issues that make you defensive, take ownership of that and let other people call you on it. Encourage it, even. If you have a manager or co-manager, this might be the right person to ask directly for that kind of help. It’s a lot to ask of someone that reports directly to you, especially if the lines of communication are still a work in progress. But another employee in a senior position should be able to call out your reactions one-on-one, and vice versa.
5. Apologize when you’re wrong.
It seems like a really simple thing, but a genuine apology when you do something wrong, even something small, can go a long way toward indicating your openness to feedback. Just be sure what you give is a genuine apology. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” is not an apology. It doesn’t need to be dramatic or drawn out, just sincere.
6. Don’t limit employee feedback.
A lot of written feedback mechanisms that managers and employers use (like online surveys or review questionnaires) can ask pointed questions or not allow for open-ended comments. This sends a subtle, but clear, message that your business is only interested in hearing what it wants to hear, good or bad. It’s also much easier to skew the answers you receive if you provide leading questions, which may end up produced biased results when looked at later on.
Ultimately, it is absolutely important to be direct and specific in the types of questions you may ask your employees, but don’t forget to balance that specificity with an opportunity for open comments. You may be surprised (pleasantly, even) with what you discover when you do.
7. Don’t only rely on once-a-year reviews.
It’s great to have a formal review process, but unless you are incorporating 360 feedback reviews (i.e. reviews of every employee — including yourself — by those above, lateral, and below them on the org chart), your staff’s review time is not the place to discuss YOU. It’s their time to discuss their performance, areas of improvement, and growth opportunities.
Even if you are employing 360 feedback, it’s important not to relegate communication between you and your staff to one time of year. It should be an evolving, ever-present process. Getting honest feedback from staff is critical to employee satisfaction over time, but it’s also critical to the success of your business. It opens doors you may not have even realized were there. And when that feedback can translate into positive change, everyone benefits in your restaurant — employees, customers, and you.
Want to dig deeper into how to manage employee conflict? Download our free eBook on “Building a Better Restaurant Staff” today!