Criticism is hard to take, but it can be even harder for employees to offer. Here's how to encourage your IT staff to open up and build a stronger team.
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Most IT leaders are accustomed to dishing out constructive criticism to employees. But how many employees would feel comfortable criticizing their boss for an ill-conceived product launch or a poorly executed deployment? Many workers fear that rubbing a manager or CIO the wrong way could mean a poor annual performance review or a withheld bonus--or at least dirty looks.
But the truth is IT leaders stand to lose the most from employee silence. Constructive feedback from talent in the trenches can help managers work smarter and manage teams better. "IT people love data, and feedback is important data," says Andrea Corney, a leadership coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business' Center for Leadership Development and Research.
Fortunately, there are ways IT leaders can solicit honest feedback from their team members without striking fear into their hearts and wallets. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Accept feedback graciously. The truth sometimes hurts--but that's no excuse to behave defensively. No matter how much you may disagree with an employee's assessment of your latest BYOD policy or data analytics software purchase, it's critical that you embrace criticism as constructive feedback, not a personal attack. "Most IT managers, like any human being, can be defensive when receiving feedback," warns Corney. "But if they're defensive, employees can take these signals to mean they don't really want feedback at all."
2. Offer examples from the past. Assuring employees that they won't be punished for offering feedback isn't convincing enough. Instead, provide real-time examples of feedback you've received in the past and the positive changes you made as a result. "Publicly share the feedback you've received in the past and explain how you accepted it, how you found it helpful, and how you responded to it," Corney advises.
3. Be specific. Asking employees, 'Hey, how am I doing?,' is more likely to elicit blank stares than insightful input. Rather, if you're looking for answers, ask for specifics. "Say to team members, 'Here's what I've been working on--I've been trying to listen better to others and manage IT department workflow better. What about my approach has been working and how can I do it even better?,'" Corney suggests. "Offering feedback is scary, but helping people know where to start, and what kind of feedback is welcome, creates a little bit more safety."
4. Be selective. You don't need to canvass every member of your IT department to identify areas for self-improvement. Nor are you likely to learn the most from your closest IT comrades. Instead, choose your source of feedback carefully. "Select someone you have a relationship with, whose perspective you trust and who you think will tell you the truth," says Corney. "It can be very powerful to go to a peer and say, 'I know we haven't always seen eye to eye and I'm guessing that this thing that I do is troublesome to you. Is that so?"
Other questions Corney recommends: What are the ways in which I am a good colleague, and how can I be a better colleague? Here's what I think you need from me--is that right?
5. Take action. While it's true that feedback is not a command to change, Corney points out that asking for constructive criticism but not acting on it will send employees a mixed message and discourage further feedback." If you don't act on feedback, people will think you don't mean it when you ask," warns Corney. "Let people know that they've been heard."
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