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Management Feedback Day – An Employee's Perspective
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Management feedback day is a concept that finds a lot of favor with many HR professionals. At times when companies actively try to welcome the views and opinions of their employees and seek an open dialogue, these kinds of feedback sessions do give employees the opportunity to enlighten the management about their concerns. Also, it helps the management gauge the wavelength of the employees. And since work-environment, employee perception, etc cannot be quantified, this day provides feedback to the HR department as well. So it seems like a win-win-win for all.

However, if some key aspects are not dealt with, this entire program can turn into a farce and this article essentially points to them. This article analyzes one such case and attempts to find the solution. I have first explained the methodology of the feedback session, the reasons for the failure and then finally the steps to be taken to ensure its success. Since the end-consumer of the HR department is the staff, this article essentially is from the perspective of the employees.

Feedback Session Methodology –

A month before the event, the HR department sets up a drop box in which the staff could write down all their suggestions and complaints about the management and put inside the box. A day or two before the event, the box would be opened by the HR and all the proposals would be noted. And then on that day, in a 3-star hotel, all the proposals would be read aloud in the presence of all the employees and the company management would discuss and pass their comments on the proposals and suggestions.

Factors influencing the employee participation –

The first and foremost issue is trust. As long as the employees do not trust the intention of the management, there is no way you could expect unbiased opinions. The biggest question on everyone’s mind was, does this have the support and backing of the top management, or is it merely an eyewash of the HR. Yes, the HR department did presume that the box-method would help conceal identity, but the main reservation was the value of the event by the top management vis-à-vis the HR department. Does the top management welcome our suggestions? If the top management is not bothered, let sleeping dogs sleep, why take a risk?

The second issue is the belief, that the management will actually do something about it. A lot of old-timers actually went around rubbishing others who thought of putting in some suggestions. ‘We gave several suggestions last year, guess what, not even one of them has been implemented. Don’t worry; this is nothing more than waste of paper, and our time.’

And the other important aspect was that the number of positive suggestions was far outnumbered by the number of personal attacks and complaints against a colleague or a senior, questions against the appraisal and other such pretty matters. And a whole program designed to reduce the communication gap between the senior management and the employees was over with nothing gained by the former or the latter.

Sandwiched between the employees and the management in this complete mess was the HR department. All we wanted was to facilitate a closer interaction between the management and you, they insisted. Definitely, the maxim 'If you don’t take care of your employees, someone else will' definitely holds good even today. However, the management wasn't very pleased over the response they got, and the employees did not go ga ga over the event either.

An idea, however great it may be, will not succeed unless the ground realities are taken care of. Therefore some of the following concerns need to be addressed to ensure a much better response from the staff.

Steps to be taken to increase participation –

The first concern is trust. The staff needs to believe that the management is interested in this event, and therefore it becomes imperative that the management actively promotes it. The management should send clear signals that it is they who are seeking the suggestions, and not the HR department. In a smaller organization, one of the top management could actually call a small meeting of all the employees and announce they would like to have clearer communication with them and promote the feedback day. In a larger organization, it could be via the office messenger. But until and unless the top management involves itself directly in the process, the efforts of the HR department would come to a naught. The top management simply cannot land up an hour before the scheduled time and expect loads of suggestions.

The second issue reiterates the need for action more than words. Any sensible person would agree that not every suggestion can be put in practice; however it is important that at least some suggestions are used. What does lack of action suggests to the employees? Either your suggestions are not solicited or they are so absurd that they are not worth a second thought. None of these help to better the relationship. Therefore not acting on any of the suggestions and lack of results at ground level definitely erodes the credibility of these feedback sessions and goes a long way in reducing interest and participation in such events in the forthcoming years. Will Latham, a consultant in Charlotte, NC, puts this fact in a very candid way in the article 'Practice Pointers: How to give and receive employee feedback', on the Medical Economics website - "No matter how you elicit feedback, if you're going to ask your employees what needs to be improved in your practice, be prepared to act in some way," says Latham. "Otherwise, employees feel that their thoughts go into a black hole. I'm not saying do exactly what they want, but indicate that you've heard the feedback and are acting on at least some of it."

It also needs to be reiterated that these feedback days cannot substitute an active conversation between the management and the employee. These can only act as a supplement. These kinds of specific days or evenings can definitely help those who are hesitant to talk to their superiors or those who fear upsetting the applecart for the fear of their job security. However the general image of the management counts a lot. If the image of the management is of an egocentric and inconsiderate group who don’t give two hoots about their employees, no amount of such sessions can be helpful. In other words, the management cannot change its color just for a day and be the opposite for the rest 364 days. Therefore the need is ensure that two supposedly diametrically opposite objectives, the benefit of the company and the well-being of the employees find a common ground.

Conclusion –

To conclude, the intention of these sessions is laudable. These sessions are intended to send the message to the staff that we are concerned of you. We would like to know from you, since we respect your position as an important stakeholder of the company; about the steps we could take to improve your work conditions, and in turn drive the company to the next level.

However the ground realities need to be considered before going ahead. Nothing sends a clearer message to an employee more than the general image of the management. As biggest decision-maker in this complete scenario, and the biggest beneficiary of the session, the top management needs to materially involve itself. It also needs to consciously make an attempt to connect itself with the general staff periodically and improve its image amongst the staff. And this needs to be ensured before another feedback session is organized.

Because for an employee ‘Perception is Reality’.

Author - K.R. Ramakrishnan

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