Giving and Getting: Opinions and Feedback

This month I worked with an organization that had recently completed a cycle of employee feedback on what could be improved in their organization.  The employee comments were very positive except that employees felt that managers do not value their opinions.  This was an interesting finding given that the majority of employees felt that managers solicit their opinions on a regular basis, provide relevant feedback on job performance, and communicate regularly about job expectations.  After several conversations with employees it became evident that the concern was not being able to give ones opinion as much as each opinion was not acted on after suggested.

Figure 1: Opinion Dynamic Matrix

It is human nature to want to provide input on decisions.  Moreover, most of us desire for our input to be the suggestion selected for action.  The dynamic between those soliciting opinions and those providing them is critical to a successful workplace.  When a leader requests information from his or her employees, it is normally one of the following:

  • genuinely gain information;
  • validate a decision that was already made; or
  • simply to have some form of interaction to build employee support.

Employees normally participate in the process out of a desire to influence their own workplace, gain acceptance of peers, or to demonstrate his or her value to the team.  Figure 1 captures the interaction between both groups and their relative motivations.  The ideal is when a leader desires to gain helpful information and the employees want to add value to the team.  The second best alternatives are when the leader wants to gain information and employees want to influence the workplace.  Tied with this alternative is when leaders desire some form of interaction with employees coupled with employees that want to add value to the team.

The reasoning behind these preferences pertains to several common characteristics most of us possess:

  • Input is a regulated resource
  • Input is great when it supports the right opinion
  • Input is not action

Input is a Regulated Resource

Most leaders feel that there are situations that input is appropriate and others that are less so.  Even the most engaging leader who cherishes feedback and ideas for improvement will typically limit the topics that employee opinions will be taken.  Conversely, employees once becoming accustomed to providing input will want to provide more input.  The ideal is for both parties to understand when and how input will be accepted.

Input is Great when Supports the Right Opinion

Most of us in any relationship want to communicate with other person to gain insight, advice, and support.  However, it is a human tendency for the communication to be much better received as long as the opinions expressed supports our own.  How many times have you asked your significant other for advice convinced that he or she will tell you what you want to hear to find out how truly off you are?  Our leaders are no different.  Even the most enlightened leaders enter into a dialogue with employees assuming that their point of view and ideas will be the ones that employees arrive at during the discussion.

Input is Not Action

As I worked with the group I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I found out that major concern was not the ability of provide input as much as if the input was the action taken by the leader.  Leaders in that organization asked for input, but rarely implemented the suggestions.  As a result, employees lost interest in providing input and failed to see the value of participating in the process.  It is important that each of understand that input is not the same as seeing your suggestion become reality.  Input in about information gathering for decision-making.

Employee input is collected in most organizations, but the value of the process and outcomes vary considerably.

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