No one really enjoys receiving negative feedback. It’s uncomfortable learning you’re not meeting expectations. As individuals, we know we need this feedback to grow and develop. It’s no different for organisations, so why do organisations often freeze in the face of negative feedback from employees?

When confronted with difficult feedback from an engagement survey, one thing is certain: failing to act will only make things worse, draining employees’ trust and motivation.

In a recent webinar, we looked at common areas of concern for HR professionals and business leaders when it comes to revealing employee survey results. Here we highlight key takeaways from the webinar and three steps leaders should take to break the deadlock and successfully deal with difficult feedback to spark greater levels of motivation and engagement.

What can (and often does) go wrong?

Difficult feedback is not uncommon. Indeed, with only one-third of employees saying they feel highly engaged, the majority of organisations are dealing with this issue to some degree. While the areas of concern for employees can and will vary, we see organisations continually struggle to act in relation to four key issues:

TALENT:RESOURCING:
Top LeadershipPay
Career DevelopmentStaffing

When it comes to talent-related concerns, organisations are often confronted by feedback that there’s a lack of trust in top leadership and stumped by low opinions on the availability of career opportunities. On the resourcing side, concerns about feeling overworked due to a perceived lack of adequate staffing and feeling unfairly paid can be challenging for leaders to hear and act on.

Three steps to action

The starting point is to see feedback as an opportunity to improve, reframing the situation and immediately orienting the process towards action.

Step one: Separate perception from reality

Employee feedback is ultimately about their perceptions of the workplace. When those perceptions are negative, they can sometimes be excused away as divorced from reality.

To meet this challenge, HR professionals should always start by tracking down objective facts that support the employee feedback. This means getting specific about what the issue is – not just “leadership”, what aspect of leadership? – and where is it happening – which functions, divisions or teams are most affected?

This early work on defining and quantifying the issue is critical. So when Ageas Insurance received feedback that collaboration needed to be improved in their employee engagement survey conducted with Korn Ferry, they put the effort into digging further into their available data. The survey results were just the starting point; additional data points from sources including exit interviews, probation reports and cultural surveys confirmed the issue and provided further insight on what exactly was happening, or not happening, in relation to collaboration.

Step two: Build a business case

Acting on feedback inevitably requires resources, so once the objective facts are in place, the next step is to build a business case that zeroes in on the return on investment.

This can of course involve a traditional cost/benefit analysis but consider also the broader context. Ageas considers employee feedback holistically, always asking: how does this feedback talk to our strategy, brand, customers and our organisation’s image? This context can help conceptualise the business case in real terms for leaders.

Step three: Align stakeholders

Just like any change, action taken in response to employee feedback should be led from the top without forgetting that support must also come from all levels in the organisation.

At Ageas, an office move offered the perfect opportunity to build support around initiatives to increase collaboration. Through leader interviews and employee focus groups, Ageas designed a new collaborative space that had support from top leadership and through the entire organisation. And when they ran their next employee survey, that support translated to improved engagement.

Taking action on feedback is critical to improving engagement. And it’s not just about addressing the specific issue, but about being seen to act as well. By following these steps, the motivation boost that follows meaningful action is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Read more about how to create an inspiring and actionable roadmap to motivate employees.

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About Contributor

Janice Ho is a Senior Principal for Korn Ferry in Singapore. She works closely with senior leaders across industries and sectors, with a key focus on talent assessment and management, leadership transformation in senior teams and executive coaching. Janice’s diverse experience in the business and consulting world, coupled with a solid theoretical grounding, enables her to bring about pivotal approaches to build capabilities of organisations and leaders to achieve sustainable success and growth.