Getting employees to open up isn’t always easy, yet it’s vital for an effective ongoing performance management program built around frequent check-ins and establishing objectives and key results. These methods work best when employees participate in their own feedback sessions, offering context for their performance and collaborating on ways to improve. Here are a few tips to help managers and business leaders encourage employees to be honest during their reviews:
Earn Their Trust
James Detert, a professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, explained to the Harvard Business Review why it’s so difficult to get employees to talk. People are conservative by nature, he explained, and aren’t inclined to confide in their superiors as a result.
“We have a deep set of defense mechanisms that make us careful around people in authority positions,” he told the publication. “That is why the information you’re getting from people multiple levels below you in the organization is likely to be filtered.”
To make performance reviews successful, however, managers need to break through these defense mechanisms and engage their employees in a conversation. This is where earning – and being worthy of – their trust comes into play. If you tell your employees you plan to do something to help them – for instance, if you said you’ll organize a training session to help them achieve their personal career goals – get it done quickly and efficiently. Also, prove your integrity by being discreet about topics discussed during check-ins when appropriate. For example, if an employee admits he or she is considering a department switch, don’t broadcast this information company-wide until he or she makes that choice. By respecting their privacy, you make employees more inclined to open up to you.
Get to the Root of Their Silence
Lack of trust is just one of many reasons why your employees aren’t talking. The simplest answer – that they’re silent because they have nothing to say – is also usually incorrect. Everyone has thoughts and opinions when it comes to work, so don’t be afraid to press people for a response. If necessary, start at the end and ask why a particular employee doesn’t want to talk to you. This person might reveal they’re afraid of being reprimanded for their opinion, or he or she might fear being thought of as a quitter for expressing dissatisfaction with a particular assignment. Once you figure out this reason, you can create your own OKRs to change company culture so employees feel more comfortable speaking up.
Use Goal Setting Software Others Can View
Sometimes it’s simply the task of speaking that keeps employees quiet. They might have a hard time structuring their thoughts or remembering things on the spot. Goal-setting software helps in this regard, giving employees a reference point to jumpstart the discussion. They can observe their progress and point out any exceptional issues or successes. By using software that allows employees to see each others’ goals, they can also observe their own role in relation to the entire organization. This helps build a culture of ownership, which Inc. magazine said encourages people to express their concerns, admit their mistakes and seek ways to improve.
Even with these suggestions, getting employees to open up completely during their check-ins won’t always be easy. However, it’s necessary for managers and other leaders to put in the work and create a culture of openness. By doing so, and by encouraging employees to participate in their own feedback, you ensure a successful ongoing performance management initiative.