How to learn from the star performers (no matter how big your frontline is!)

How to learn from the star performers (no matter how big your frontline is!)

Your friendly neighbourhood Customer Success Associate is back! I’ve already talked about how you can identify star performers without visiting every location, even when your workforce numbers in the thousands. But what should you do once you single out these magical employees, locations, or regions? 

It’s time to tap into their knowledge and best practices so that you can share these across the business. 

But how do you do this?

Here is my 4-step plan for capturing great ideas and best practices from your star performers – no matter how large your organization is. 

1. Ask them  

The first step in learning from your star performers is simply asking them – and, of course, establishing a process for gathering this information. 

Make it clear that your business is seeking input from these frontline workers. Letting them know that you want and value their opinions will start this process out on the right foot and ensure that you’ve put idea creation on your employees’ radar. Pro tip: rather than throwing out a blanket statement of “we want ideas”, be sure to define the areas in which you need support. This will help direct their innovation and ensure you get the absolute most from them. 

2. Launch an ideas forum (specifically for star performers!)

We’ve talked before about the value of employee forums when it comes to capturing the great ideas your star performers have to share. Why? Employees need a space they can go to where they know their ideas and knowledge will be seen, considered and actioned. Nothing is more demotivating to high performing individuals than being asked for ideas only to have them fall into a black hole (more on that later). 

But here, I’m going to suggest creating a dedicated space on your communications platform, Intranet, or other channel, to share exclusively with the workers, locations, or regions you’ve identified as top performers. On Nudge, I love setting up an ideas forum where top performers have space to let their knowledge fly and share it with other top performers. This ideation only spurs more ideation. The pinnacle of sourcing best practices from your high performing workers is having them drive other top performers to improve and better themselves. Top performers helping other top performers can exponentially grow their knowledge and abilities.

3. Offer rewards and recognition for innovation

Offering employee rewards and recognition to star performers for their hard work can only help them improve themselves and the company at large. It’s also one of the best ways to get employees to share their ideas. 

“(High performers) need to feel the love,” explains leadership expert Sara Canaday in a recent article for LinkedIn. “Giving them a tangible sign of appreciation will make them feel valued and reinforce the message that they play a critical role for the team and the organization overall.”

My go-to as a CSA at Nudge is recognizing associates on the app for all their peers to see. This way, you benefit by: 

  1. Recognizing the associate
  2. Promoting the desired behavior or idea

You can also accomplish this outcome in your company newsletter, social platform, or in employee meetings. Through all of this, the goal is to not take your high-performing employees for granted. They work hard and accomplish a lot for the organization; you should acknowledge their successes wherever possible, and make sure their scalable successes and ideas don’t go uncelebrated.

4. Action the ideas

There are a few ways to action great ideas and employee feedback. But because a lot of the insights you’ll collect from your star performers are best practices, that’s what we’ll talk about here. 

The first step in actioning best practices from your star performers is to share them as far and wide as you can. If you take one thing away from this article, it should be this tip: it will be more impactful when these best practices come from “one of them” rather than distilled from Head Office. This is something that many companies struggle with. They’re always looking to optimize top-down or bottom-up communication, but fail to see the gold mine that is inter-colleague sharing. You can tell your employees 100 times to perform a task a certain way, but when they hear a tip or trick from a colleague, they’re more likely to take it in and remember it. The impact can be meteoric. 

Work with your star performers to share their ideas using any (or all!) tools you use to connect with your frontline – app, email, company newsletter, social platforms or employee meetings. Even shout it from the rooftops of HQ. Just be sure to spotlight the most helpful and actionable insights for the frontline to see. Recognizing employees and attributing these ideas, tips and tricks to them, will help validate not only the employee themselves, but the idea as well. 

Once you’ve shared your top performers’ ideas, be sure to follow up and check for compliance. Whether you have your managers monitoring in-store or you simply poll the frontline, it’s always helpful to check in and see the effect. This can also help you course correct as you go. Re-testing on knowledge and behavior not only allows us to identify top performers but those on the lower end of the spectrum as well – those that could use some additional support and mentorship. 

The ultimate goal with sharing best practices from your star performers is to create a culture of continuous learning, improvement and collaboration. What you really want is to establish trust with your employees and show them that their actions and ideas have real influence and meaning. Sharing these insights has countless benefits – for the high performer and for the frontline in general. The knowledge will help all employees grow into leaders by providing insights and access to these more experienced individuals, while also giving high-performing employees recognition and responsibility. 

Collecting employee feedback: 4 tried-and-true methods

Collecting employee feedback: 4 tried-and-true methods

We’ve talked about why to track feedback. We’ve talked about what types of feedback to collect. But what about how you should be collecting employee feedback? 

When it comes to collecting employee feedback, your deskless workforce needs a specialized approach. After all, your teams aren’t in front of a computer all day. They’re not all working 9 to 5. They’re spread across the country – or further. That means you can’t collect these valuable insights in one-on-one meetings or other other standard deskbound channels. 

In a more fluid workplace, it’s important to have the right channels in place when collecting upward feedback from employees, whether it’s an idea, complaint about a coworker, customer insight, health or safety concern, you name it. 

Not sure what channel is best for your organization when collecting employee feedback? Here are 4 tried-and-true options to consider:

1. Surveys

We know what you’re thinking – you hear surveys and instantly roll your eyes. There’s no shortage of articles talking about the challenges of employee surveys – but the truth of the matter is that it is a tried and tested method, if it’s done right.  If you fail to take the time to ask the right questions, or try to share surveys in the wrong places, you won’t get the kind of answers you’re looking for. 

One of the biggest criticisms of employee surveys is that they only collect employee feedback once or twice a year. You don’t want to let a brilliant employee idea or a potentially concerning customer complaint pass you by, especially when you consider that 58% of employees wish their company conducted employee engagement surveys more frequently. 

That’s why pulse surveys are a great option. That way, you can foster a feedback culture  – and your employees get used to the regular cadence of being asked for their feedback, ideas, and concerns. With pulse surveys, you’re asking a shorter list of questions (sometimes, only one!) on a more regular basis. As Achievers explains, “Making surveys quick and easy for employees to complete leads to greater participation and stronger, more reliable results. Pulse surveys also allow for streamlined data collection and timely analysis of results, so organizations can respond to feedback quickly.”

2. Forums

This is a go-to for Nudge. When it comes to collecting employee ideas and sharing best practices at scale, forums are a great option. Employee feedback forums are an online communication channel where employees aren’t just sending ideas up to head office, they’re engaging with each other’s comments and insights as well. This is more of an open channel where workers can build on other peoples’ ideas, especially around a specific topic or question. 

The best forums are easy to use and accessible at all times (frontline employees using Nudge, for example, can access Spark Sessions via their phones). After all, inspiration can strike at any time – you want to make sure your workforce can log their ideas or customer insights before they’re forgotten. 

This method of collecting employee feedback has its challenges too – if you’re bringing thousands of employees into a forum, you need to ensure you have the right tools in place to capture common sentiments and great ideas (Psst…Nudge can help with that!). The worst feedback mistake you can make is not following up on the great ideas your employees share. 

3. Ask me anythings (AMAs)

Ask me anythings (a.k.a. AMAs) aren’t just for celebs on Reddit. These Q&A sessions are a great way to collect questions and concerns that senior leadership needs to address pronto. Usually questions are submitted ahead of time (often anonymously) and they’re answered in a forum, virtual town hall, or any number of other digital communication channels. 

AMAs can take place at any time, but they’re particularly useful around major product launches or after leadership has made a significant announcement. Providing a space for every employee to ask questions sends the message that they are safe, supported, and heard – and they’re an integral part of the organization. 

In a Forbes article on his AMAs, Shopify president Harley Finkelstein explains, “When I get up to field questions, I’m showing my team that I’m really willing to listen to them: that their feedback is valuable and their experience matters just as much as mine. It’s truly one of the most important things I do in my job.”

4. Face-to-face conversations

This one is tricky. If a frontline worker has something directly to say to their manager or supervisor, then there’s always the option of providing feedback through a face-to-face conversation. While this can be a valuable option for more personal concerns, it’s hard to level up. First, feedback can go through the broken telephone game as it makes its way back up to head office from the floor manager. If a worker gives a critical insight, idea, or suggestion to their manager, they have to pass it along. When the feedback gets to the right person, is the original idea still there, or has it become convoluted?

Second, this channel is highly dependent on the availability of an individual’s manager and how urgent the feedback is. There’s also a concern that this approach can be inconsistent across locations and regions, which can drive a lack of psychological safety at an organizational level. 

If face-to-face feedback is crucial to your frontline organization (research suggests that 95% of professionals consider face-to-face communication vital for long-term business), consider running focus groups or structured group feedback sessions as a way to gather those insights in a more standardized way. Or, work with floor managers to bring collected feedback directly into your digital communication platform or feedback channel to ensure no idea gets lost. 

Collecting employee feedback can seem like a major challenge for larger frontline and deskless organizations. But with the right feedback channels in place, it can be simple and easy to foster a feedback culture and collect those insights seamlessly, no matter what the scale. And once you have your channels in place, be sure to follow these steps to track and improve your programs!

How to track (and improve!) your employee feedback program

How to track (and improve!) your employee feedback program

Here at Nudge, we’re pretty passionate about the power of employee feedback. An effective employee feedback program can boost your employee engagement, sharpen your competitive edge – and even save you money.  

And we know there are many great companies out there who are walking the walk and implementing upward feedback loops. However, creating feedback channels is only the first step in building a culture of feedback. Equally important is tracking the effectiveness of the feedback tools you have in place, and identifying areas for improvement. 

After all, you don’t want to be sinking considerable time and resources into managing channels that aren’t actually effectively capturing your employees’ opinions, ideas, and concerns. And what’s more, the health of your employee feedback channels could indicate broader issues, whether it’s low employee engagement or a lack of psychological safety that’s preventing employees from sharing their thoughts with you. 

Not sure how to track feedback? No problem. We’re here to help with six actionable steps you can take to start tracking and improving your employee feedback program. 

Step 1: Identify and analyze your current feedback channels

If you’re currently only getting feedback from employees once a year, you’re making a mistake. A recent survey by Saba found that more than half of employees reported that their organization didn’t have adequate feedback channels, with the majority saying they were rarely asked for their input. 

To get started, take stock of the upward feedback channels you make available. This might include: 

  • Annual employee surveys
  • Forums
  • AMAs
  • Town halls or focus groups
  • Pulse surveys
  • Digital suggestion boxes
  • 1:1 meetings

There are all kinds of feedback you can and should be thinking about collecting, so double check that you aren’t missing out on opportunities to gather key insights from your employees. 

As you start to identify your existing feedback channels, ask yourself: 

  • What are our formal vs. informal structures? Is our mix of feedback channels right?
  • How easy is it for employees to access feedback channels (especially frontline or deskless employees)?
  • Are there types of feedback we’re not currently asking for that we need?

Answering these initial questions will help guide you as you dig deeper into your feedback metrics and outcomes. 

Step 2: Track employee feedback participation 

Once you’ve identified your existing feedback channels, it’s time to look at how much each one gets used.

At the most basic level, you’ll want to assess metrics such as response/participation rates, to understand how actively employees are engaging with each channel. It’s also worth breaking down participation rates by various categories such as regions or teams. This can help you identify where there may be a break in your feedback loop. For example, in the Saba survey, 61% of female employees reported that they were rarely asked for feedback, compared to 56% of men. Female employees also tended to be more uncomfortable offering feedback than men. 

Using your metrics to identify these gaps can help you assess whether you’re using the right channels, or if there are interventions you can make at the organizational level to boost response rates among different segments of employees. 

While it is easier to track metrics when you have a digital communications platform on hand to do the heavy lifting for you (yes, like Nudge!), it doesn’t mean you should ignore your non-digital feedback channels. You might track the number of regular meetings between location managers and their staff, or the number of new ideas or complaints coming up from the shop floor.  While you may have to rely more on anecdotal or qualitative data, you can still sharpen your understanding of how well your feedback channels are working. 

Step 3: Establish feedback benchmarks

The best way to track how well your feedback channels are working over time is to set benchmarks and compare against them regularly. 

This takes time. Depending on the feedback channels and platforms you’re using, you might be able to leverage industry or comparative benchmarks. But one of the best indicators of success is to track participation, response rate, and idea sharing at your own organization, over time. After you’ve established a channel and let it run for a few months, you can set a benchmark, e.g. the number of ideas you want to generate each time. Every time you seek feedback, you can track whether you’re meeting your benchmark and use that information to inform your future employee feedback program strategies. 

Step 4: Hone your employee feedback program processes 

Getting feedback from employees will only ever be as effective as the processes you use. If you send employees never-ending surveys or only ask vague, open-ended questions, you’ll likely see a dip in the quality and quantity of feedback you receive.  

In other words, it’s not just what you ask, but how you ask it. According to survey platform company Alchemer, there are five survey design principles you should keep in mind: 

  • Focus: Set specific objectives
  • Connection: Design your survey with your audience in mind
  • Respect: Respect your employees’ time – don’t make them take a never-ending survey or jump through hoops just to give you the feedback you’re asking for
  • Action: Be prepared to take action or make a decision as a result of your survey 
  • Engagement: Continue the feedback loop – share survey insights and decisions/actions taken with your employees

When developing an employee feedback program, be mindful of using distinct feedback channels to elicit different types of feedback. For example, how you ask for feedback on management practices will likely look different to your request for new product ideas. Different types of feedback will need different levels of psychological safety, assurances, and incentives in order for your employees to choose to participate. 

Step 5: Run feedback awareness campaigns

If you’re consistently seeing low response from your feedback channels (whether throughout the organization, or in certain regions or roles) your employees may simply be unaware of your attempts to gather feedback. This can be a particular challenge for companies with large numbers of deskless employees, where communication channels can be fractured, and there may be less focus on formal upward feedback. 

It’s why a digital employee communication tool can be such a game-changer when it comes to deskless employees. With an integrated communication and feedback platform, you can run feedback awareness campaigns that could include: 

  • Feedback training, e.g. how to guides on how to give and receive feedback or videos highlighting how to use your communication channels
  • Highlights of how you’ve used feedback in the past
  • Ideas contests or forums
  • Senior leadership sharing the “why” behind feedback requests, connecting feedback to the larger mission

Remember: different messages may be more effective with some groups than others. You’ll want to track employees’ responses to your awareness campaigns, and possibly do some A/B testing.

Step 6: Ask employees how you’re doing

As we’ve already established, user experience is a critical component of making an employee feedback program successful. So while it may seem a little circular, make sure to ask your employees for input during employee surveys on how well your company’s feedback channels are working for them. Are they aware of the channels available to them? Do they use them? Do they feel safe giving all types of feedback? What do they think about your feedback channels?

You might even want to push out a regular pulse survey to employees to check whether they’ve used one or more of your feedback channels in the past month or quarter (which would also help you when it comes to setting benchmarks). 

Tracking feedback can make an already complicated process seem even more time and labour intensive. But if you want to walk the walk when it comes to employee feedback, it’s important to track how you’re doing and identify opportunities for improvement. After all, the most expensive mistake is to set up ineffective feedback channels that fail to deliver the real return on investment that comes from creating a positive culture of upward feedback. 

 

6 types of employee feedback every organization should be collecting

6 types of employee feedback every organization should be collecting

Deskless employees across any company are aware of 100% of an organization’s front-line problems. That’s because they’re the ones who implement new strategies and processes from head office. They’re the ones who talk to customers on a daily basis. They’re a wealth of information – if you ask for it. 

When properly collected and acted upon, employee feedback has a huge ROI:

  • Employee feedback turns ineffective and time-wasting processes into seamless ones
  • Employee feedback turns top customer complaints or requests into business opportunities that improve customer satisfaction and increase revenue
  • Employee feedback turns disgruntled employees into highly engaged employees who consistently show up ready to perform

When it comes to gathering this upward feedback, there are so many different types you can collect. In this article, we’ll cover 6 types of employee feedback your company should be collecting.

Let’s dive in!

1. Employee experience feedback

According to Forbes, employee engagement is defined as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” To simplify that further, organizations can gauge engagement as whether or not employees show up to work and try. Employee engagement is driven by employee experience. And regardless of how engaged (or not) your front line employees are, it’s important to continuously collect feedback around the employee experience because: 

  1. There’s always room for improvement, and
  2. Things change

Take 2020 as a prime example of life and work never being constant. Things are bound to happen, whether it’s a global pandemic, or local policies that impact the workforce. Keeping a pulse on what your workforce feels about their experience at work ensures that you’re addressing engagement issues quickly, and keeping your workforce happy and productive. 

2. Feedback on management

In corporate offices, it’s likely that you’re running skip-level meetings. However this practice is less common for the deskless workforce. That being said, organizations should give their employees opportunities to provide feedback on their manager to higher-ups. Why? As the old adage goes, people leave managers, not companies.

Remember the Iceberg of Ignorance? Only 9% of middle management and 4% of executives  are aware of an organization’s problems. This includes bad supervisors. The best way to find out if your supervisors are fostering an engaging work environment is through offering your workers feedback channels to share concerns privately and without worry of ramifications. 

One thing to note: when you ask for feedback, it’s important that you don’t frame it in a way that makes supervisors feel like their job is on the line. Instead, approach it as a way to collect feedback for the purpose of improving the workplace for everyone, supervisors included.

3. Workplace protocols and process-oriented feedback

You want your stores or locations to be as efficient as possible, right? Well, while ideas and processes sound great on paper, they don’t always pan out in real life. That’s why it’s so important to collect feedback around protocols and processes from your employees.

A big piece of collecting this type of upward feedback is building psychological safety across your workforce so that they feel comfortable sharing their insights on what could make the company run smoother. Like with manager feedback, there can be a fear among frontline workers that their feedback will lead to repercussions. Fostering a feedback culture over time reiterates to your employees that they’re encouraged to safely share critical feedback. 

As you collect this employee feedback, you’ll be able to update inefficient processes and put together best practices that you can roll out to new and existing employees. You’ll also be able to update your onboarding programs to ensure that all new hires are following the most up-to-date training.

4. Health and safety concerns

To talk about health and safety, we need to first talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. According to Maslow, motivation comes from fulfilling five basic human needs:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Image via Wikipedia

  1. Physiological needs 
  2. Safety
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualization

Let’s focus on the second tier: safety. Safety is a basic need. It’s perfectly normal for employees to want to feel safe at their workplace. When feelings of safety are high, it increases overall employee engagement. Safety concerns can differ from industry to industry – and even from location to location. It might include: 

  • Trepidation around ongoing cleaning/safety protocols (especially regarding COVID)
  • Safety concerns workers have around workings shifts or opening/closing locations alone
  • Ideas on how to navigate natural disasters or other emergencies, especially in regions prone to hurricanes or tornadoes   

That’s why it’s important to collect health and safety concerns across all of your locations on a frequent basis. Another crucial piece of gathering health and safety feedback is to remain open and welcoming to any and all feedback – this is another type of feedback that requires a lot of psychological safety to ensure your workforce feels able to share their safety concerns without fear of repercussion. But it’s worth it: the sooner you get your staff feeling safe and confident, the faster they’ll be motivated to thrive.  

5. Knowledge gaps

As a company, you’re likely introducing new products or services throughout the year. While your product or R&D team is very aware of what this new thing does, the same shouldn’t be assumed about your frontline workers. 

As the face of the company, it’s important that this segment of your workforce is equipped with the knowledge and training to assist and advise customers. This is even more important in today’s omnichannel approach, especially in retail, foodservice, and hospitality, where guests and customers are coming into locations armed with a lot of information. Nudge COO Jordan Ekers puts it best in an interview with Authority Magazine: 

“Every time an associate has to interact with a customer, that associate has to have more information, more inspiration, and to be more of a brand advocate than the customers themselves. And that’s difficult in these times because customers have access to so much information that they’re often walking into a location with more knowledge than an associate. And we as consumers have all experienced this. That is completely broken and causing a fundamental shift where brands are investing more in their people.”

That’s why companies need to consistently collect employee feedback to identify knowledge gaps in the workplace. If you have the right digital communication platform in place, these knowledge gaps can be identified via quizzes and surveys, but asking your employees what information they need is also a great way to identify problem areas. After all, when your employees feel supported, and when they have the information needed to successfully serve customers, everyone wins.  

6. Customer insights

Frontline employees have the most exposure to your customers. They’re the ones answering questions, listening to real-time feedback, and seeing how customers or guests interact with your brand. This information is solid gold. This is the intel that can improve your CX and drive sales through better insight on:  

  • The products customers are looking for
  • The processes or rules customers are frustrated with (i.e. hours of operation, return policies, etc)
  • What customers love about your company and what excites them most about it

This type of feedback, more than any other type, requires a real-time approach. Here’s another place where a digital communication app can come in really handy – ideally employees can log feedback, customer insights, or other ideas right from their phones, as soon as they happen. If you ask them to hold on to these ideas until after their shift, they’ll likely forget – and in some cases, it might be too late to act on the feedback. 

Deskless employees are the face of your company. As a result, it’s important that organizations make the time to listen to their employees and collect a wide range of feedback to improve your employee experience, workplace, and customer/guest experience – and drive better business outcomes as a result.

Q&A: Building psychological safety in the frontline workplace

Q&A: Building psychological safety in the frontline workplace

It’s no surprise that as a digital employee communication platform, we think a lot about what creates the right conditions for meaningful two-way conversations in the workplace. One critical component is psychological safety – without it, even the best tools in the world won’t get you the kind of feedback and engagement you want from your deskless and frontline employees. 

To understand the concept of psychological safety and how you can build it with your frontline workers, we spoke with Laura Delizonna, PhD., a Stanford University instructor, internationally renowned speaker, author, and executive coach. She is an expert in psychological safety, optimal team performance, leadership effectiveness, and wellbeing, and has worked with companies like Google, Tommy Hilfiger, and Disney. 

We sat down with Dr. Delizonna to talk about psychological safety with deskless and frontline workers, fostering employee feedback channels, and more. 

What does the concept of psychological safety in the workplace mean?

Laura Delizonna: Psychological safety is the unconscious answer to what I believe is an evolutionary based question: “Are you for me or against me?” In other words, as an employee, if I don’t show up in an ideal way, if I make a minor flub or am not 100% perfect, will there be excessive negative consequences for me?

At a basic level, when psychological safety is failing, employees will begin to believe that there will be explicit or implicit negative repercussions for expressing an opinion, voicing opposition, or making a minor mistake or error. Negative consequences can be explicit (for example, not getting promoted), but often it’s more implicit, for example, through competence being quietly questioned.

The flip side (when psychological safety is present) is feeling appreciated and valued. Sometimes that part gets left out. Psychological safety is more than just believing that bad things won’t happen: it’s actually believing that there is a welcoming of opinions, perspectives and vulnerabilities.

Why are organizations starting to pay more attention to creating psychological safety?

While the term may be new, I think most people when they hear the definition of psychological safety find the idea very familiar. Psychological safety is an invisible force that exists in all relationships. But organizations are now focusing more on psychological safety because we are in an economy of success that requires more input from multiple voices. To succeed requires diversity of thought and breakthrough innovation.

“We are in an economy of success that requires more input from multiple voices. To succeed requires diversity of thought and breakthrough innovation.”

Back in the days when we could just work harder to boost a business, for example on a production line, there wasn’t the same need for psychological safety. You just needed an action to be completed. 

But now, we’re looking for more than just specific actions to be completed: we’re in an idea economy. Success is created in almost every company by bringing in creative thoughts around how to do things, when to do things. Companies realize that when they’re tackling complex problems in an error dependent environment, employees need to be encouraged to speak up.  

The equation for success in today’s workplaces is that success happens in interdependent complex contexts. Our work is becoming more complex, we’re working cross-culturally, we’re solving wicked problems, we’re conducting agile rapid learning experiments… All these factors mean organizations need psychological safety. 

Traditionally, organizations might have viewed their frontline workers precisely as part of a production line. Why is it important to build psychological safety for frontline workers?

Frontline workers have access to an incredible amount of data and information about the customer or client that leadership does not. Leadership will likely rarely talk to customers directly, but frontline workers know what the customer needs, wants, what their pain points are, what’s frustrating to them, how the company is not serving them (or not serving them well). 

All this information really serves leadership. If managers and leaders are not gathering employee feedback, they are making decisions and creating policies and systems without being informed. Whenever a question like “What can we do better?” or “What do our employees need in order to serve our customers better?” arises, frontline workers have the answers. 

Even with questionnaires or market research, leaders would be foolish to ignore the insight that their frontline workers have. Otherwise, they’re making decisions that are at best uneducated guesses. There’s just such a greater wealth of qualitative information when you ask your frontline workers in service industries and customer service lines for their input. 

How can organizations build psychological safety for its frontline workers? 

When you’re seeking upward feedback, you have to reward the messenger.

For example, if a customer service rep brings bad news, says “I need X” or “Y isn’t working,” then that has to be welcomed. Coming forward with feedback can’t be harmful. Frontline workers aren’t stupid. They’re not going to say things that are going to be poorly received, or have negative consequences for them. They’ll stay silent.

“Frontline workers aren’t stupid. They’re not going to say things that are going to be poorly received, or have negative consequences for them. They’ll stay silent.”

Or worse, if frontline workers feel unappreciated or sour as a result of how management has responded to their feedback, they might take it out on the customer, or become disengaged from the company. Organizations need to remember that frontline workers are your representatives, representing the company, its norms, its values. This is important: you have to set up frontline workers so that they can bring their best. Their emotional states, their mood, their happiness, their feeling of being appreciated, all this matters. When you can do this, frontline workers feel like part of the team, not the machine. 

That’s part one: putting employees first and enabling the employee to feel proud of their role and their company, feel loyal and willing to go above and beyond, able to tolerate difficult situations. 

The other part is, how do you make it safe for these workers to give their input?

For this, there has to be air cover for candor. You have to make sure the bearer of bad news isn’t punished. Leaders need to recognize it’s a very dangerous place to be in for frontline workers to be criticizing a system – because people, including managers, can take feedback personally. Nobody wants to be seen as the problem, and that’s why employee feedback can only happen when there’s enough psychological safety for the workers.

What steps can leaders take to show upward feedback is welcome?

Words aren’t enough; talk is cheap. Employees have to have proof that there won’t be negative consequences or repercussions for pointing out a problem. 

One thing I’ve encountered is that the person who points out a problem can often be blamed. Managers attribute the problem to the employee, saying, “Well, you’re having a problem because you’re not performing well enough.” This is one of the subtle but most ubiquitous ways that feedback gets blocked in an organization: the receiver attributes it to a problem with the individual, rather than looking at the system or considering where change might be needed. 

So, first of all, leaders need to lead the way. Leaders are asking workers to be vulnerable by bringing forth negative feedback, opposition, or mistakes, but they often don’t start with themselves. The leader has to say, “This is how I have messed up…” or “This is what I have noticed…” or “I don’t know the solution, I need your help.” This shows that the leader is willing to undertake some emotional exposure, to experience uncertainty, too. 

Most leaders refuse to do this, because they’re also afraid to be seen as weak or incompetent. But there’s always a way that leaders can do this.  For example, leaders can acknowledge the complexity of the current environment (“We’ve never been here before”) or call for knowledge they don’t have (“You’re on the frontline, I’m not”) or appeal to a shared vision or purpose (“we need to figure this out together.”)

Leaders must also be willing to share their own errors and mistakes. Maybe it’s negative press or board feedback: but if leaders can show that they can make and own their mistakes, it sends the signal that mistakes, feedback and learning are welcome at all levels in the organization. 

What are some mistakes that organizations make when seeking upward feedback that can diminish psychological safety?

How leaders respond to feedback is critical. Everyone in the organization is watching and paying attention to whether someone gets reprimanded, ignored, or dismissed when they give feedback. 

There are three responses that can play out when feedback is given. 

  • Turning against: When the person giving feedback gets blamed and criticised.
  • Turning away: When feedback is dismissed, not responded to, talked over, or ignored.
  • Turning towards: When the feedback is received with curiosity and appreciation. In this situation, the leader says, “Oh, thank you. Tell me more.” 

Leaders have to make sure they are turning towards feedback. Whenever they turn away or turn against feedback it will silence any additional feedback for the entire group, not just for that person. Anyone who has witnessed or been told secondhand about a negative response to  feedback will be discouraged from sharing their own feedback in the future. 

However, it’s worth noting that asking for feedback does not necessarily mean you have to implement it. I’ve heard leaders say they don’t want to ask for feedback because they’re not sure what will happen if they ask for input and then decide not to use it. It is okay to ask but not implement input or feedback. The key is to thank employees for the input/feedback and explicitly acknowledge that the input is not being acted upon but that it was considered. It can go a long way to explain the decision making process: why and what variables were at play in making the final decision. Then people feel respected, and heard rather than dismissed, which diminishes psychological safety.

Another consideration is that the whole organization needs to be on board; turning toward feedback has to be part of your culture. Negative repercussions don’t just come from senior leadership, they could come from the store manager, or another cashier. Nobody’s going to do anything that’s going to hurt their chances for promotion, advancement. Nobody wants to risk being seen as incompetent or unlikeable. 

“It’s like your brain and your mind is scanning, constantly saying, ‘Don’t get killed, don’t get killed, don’t get killed.’ And a negative comment is the sabertooth tiger in the modern day workplace.”

Remember, we are social animals. We read micro-expressions: a manager can say exactly the same words, but even a slightly negative tone or facial expression can change the whole meaning of an interaction. Reading these subtle and unconscious social cues constantly is wired into our brains. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s like your brain and your mind is scanning, constantly saying, “Don’t get killed, don’t get killed, don’t get killed.” And a negative comment is the sabertooth tiger in the modern day workplace.

If a leader knows that their organization has a history of shooting the messenger or ignoring feedback, how can they turn the culture around?

You must repair harm to improve the future. 

I think of these as “regrettable incidents”– over time we will all have harmful responses and reactions that can damage a relationship. And when a regrettable incident occurs and there’s some kind of relationship rupture, you must repair it. 

Most people will say something like, “I know there have been problems, we’re going to do better in the future.” But that’s weak: it doesn’t have an emotional impact and it doesn’t prove anything. It isn’t convincing. 

Instead, I advise leaders to practise the “three Rs.” 

The first R is responsibility. Leaders need to take specific responsibility for what’s gone wrong by saying, “I take responsibility for this action that created this harm.” 

The second R is remorse. Leaders need to show regret, say sorry, acknowledge that they want to do better. In some circumstances (when appropriate), it may be important for leaders to offer up greater degrees of emotional exposure, saying things like “I feel bad for how this happened” or “I’m embarrassed, “ or “This was unacceptable.” 

The final R is recommit. When a leader realizes that they haven’t responded well or haven’t listened as well as they should have, the next step is to recommit. Leaders need to show that they are ready to listen and must share specific actions that are going to be taken in the future–and acknowledge specific mistakes that are not going to be made again. For example by saying, “I’m not going to do that again, instead I’m going to do X.”

Leaders need to immediately take action on the new plan, even if it’s something token or a small step in the right direction. In a recent executive coaching session I had with a CEO I told them they had to take action that day. And so the CEO sent out an anonymous survey that same day, as soon as the town hall was over, to gather opinions. That starts to walk the talk immediately. People have some sense that maybe this time there’s actually going to be a real change. 

Because remember, if you promise but don’t follow through, then there is no belief that your repair will be valid. You’ll lose credibility. Employees are used to “promises, promises” from management, but not seeing the action taken. This builds resentment and actually degrades the situation further. You have to make an effective repair. 

What’s your biggest takeaway for how to build psychological safety?

The main thing is to be curious and give ample appreciation. When receiving feedback, say, “Thank you, that must have been difficult to say. Tell me more.” Ask people for examples, acknowledge that they’ve raised something valuable that you hadn’t thought of before. Make it clear that you’re ready to hear more from the person giving you feedback, that it is welcome. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. We’re grateful to Dr. Delizonna for speaking with us, and acknowledge that her participation in this Q&A does not represent an endorsement of Nudge’s products and services. Find out more about Laura Delizonna’s work at delizonna.com

A brief guide to upward feedback (and why deskless organizations struggle to get it)

A brief guide to upward feedback (and why deskless organizations struggle to get it)

Upward feedback is essential to any organization. After all, for any relationship to succeed, two-way communication needs to occur. Both individuals should be able to share feedback, listen, and change their actions and behaviors to continue to improve the relationship for both parties. 

The same goes for companies. According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report, employee experience is becoming more and more important for the new working generation. What better way to improve your employee experience than by talking to your employees?

Regardless of your organization’s size, it’s important that you not only deliver top-down feedback, but rather spend time collecting and listening to upward feedback from your employees.

When it comes to collecting upward feedback, there are a lot of challenges that prevent deskless organizations from doing it effectively. Let’s walk through the importance of upward feedback and common hurdles that deskless organizations face.

What is upward feedback? 

Upward feedback is feedback that’s given or received from the bottom-up – from your employees to head office. It’s important that managers and higher-ups consistently have a pulse on the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best way to do that is through upward feedback.

Companies that prioritize upward feedback see a lot of benefits:

  • They can address changing customer needs as they come up from the very people who talk to your customers the most
  • They empower employees to drive business outcomes by understanding what motivates them most
  • Iceberg of ignorance | NudgeThey become employers-of-choice by fostering a listening culture where employees feel safe sharing ideas
  • They avoid unnecessary turnover from disgruntled or disengaged employees by understanding the problems they face and taking action to resolve those issues

In other words: listening to what your employees have to say matters.

In fact, according to the iceberg of ignorance, only 4% of an organization’s front-line problems are known by top executives, 9% by middle management, 74% by team leads, and 100% by employees. So, if your company’s looking to better understand where you can improve and create a workplace culture that retains employees, it’s time to get more upward feedback!

The challenges of collecting upward feedback in deskless industries

Collecting employee feedback is hard in any organization, but it’s particularly challenging in frontline and deskless organizations. Here are a few of the hurdles that face deskless organizations when collecting upward feedback:

Psychological safety is low

Originally coined by Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is a “sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.” Ultimately, this means that employees feel safe to share feedback, ideas, or general comments without fear of repercussions.

When psychological safety is low, it’s hard for employees to engage in meaningful conversation, especially ones where they’re expected to share constructive feedback with people higher up. For employees to share their honest thoughts with supervisors or upper management, they need to feel safe to do so.

For upper management, creating that safe space can be even harder because they don’t get to build rapport and trust on the job every day. This poses a real challenge for deskless workforces when it comes to upward feedback. If you can’t create a psychologically safe space, it will be virtually impossible to receive helpful and honest feedback.

Fractured communication between regions

When you get large enough to have stores in multiple regions, it makes things harder to standardize across the organization, especially when it comes to feedback. Not to mention the feedback you get back will likely be different from region to region.

It’s also difficult to maintain timelines for collecting feedback from region to region, especially when you look at how fast each store, region, or floor supervisor works. If one store shares feedback two months prior to another store, then your team will likely delay making any meaningful change for at least two months. And if an organization is lacking standardized procedures across various regions, that leads to misaligned feedback. 

Lack of focus on formal upward feedback channels

When you work in a deskbound organization, there are many formalities that are put into place with a focus on exchanging feedback, like one-on-one meetings, 360 degree reviews, and quarterly or annual performance reviews. There are countless opportunities available for these deskbound employees to receive and share feedback.

This same luxury isn’t extended to deskless employees. Whether they’re full or part-time employees, there are rarely opportunities granted for these front line workers to share feedback with store managers and corporate. 

Less tech in place (especially non-BYOD workplaces)

The fastest way to request and collect feedback is no longer pen and paper (surprise, surprise!). For deskbound employees, there’s plenty of tech to harvest feedback beyond the meetings and reviews we mentioned above. With deskless workforces, it’s more tricky. Some organizations use digital communication platforms (like Nudge!) with a bring your own device (BYOD) policy. However, without these tools and policies in place, employees are no longer sharing feedback during work hours when their experiences and memories are fresh. 

Difficulties reviewing upward feedback at scale

Deskless worker industries have some of the highest turnover rates. With such high turnover rates, it’s important that feedback is actioned as soon as possible. But with larger deskless organizations with thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of employees, it becomes harder and harder to not only collect feedback, but distil it down into actionable chunks of information. 

For deskless organizations to thrive, two-way communication must occur frequently. Employees must be able to share feedback with head office, and organizations should facilitate safe spaces where feedback is encouraged. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s easy for deskless organizations to make feedback mistakes and come up against hurdles. However, it’s worthwhile to put the processes and tools in place to overcome these challenges in order to empower and engage your deskless workforce. More on that soon….

Proven ROI of 484%

Forrester Consulting's Total Economic Impact™ study found a 484% ROI with Nudge!*

*over three years.