Here on the Insights blog, we often talk about the benefits of continuous employee feedback, but the value you get from this process is only as good as the questions you ask.
When continuous employee feedback has an online component like getting employees to complete a check-in form or place themselves on a rating scale, it’s vital these are designed strategically to minimise bias and help gather the most accurate and detailed answers.
Reducing bias in this process is two-fold, we need to reduce both desirability bias in employees completing feedback as well as unconscious bias that managers may have in gathering feedback from their direct reports. As always, this approach should also be focused on reducing the burden on managers, and improving their leadership skills, by helping them easily capture valuable information and easily gain insights from it. Here we’ll explore how this can be achieved.
Normally this knowledge is reserved for intelliHR customers, but today we’re going to share some of our pro tips for avoiding bias in continuous employee feedback.
The first step is to centralise the continuous employee feedback process. By having a feedback form which uses best practice, scientifically-proven questions and rating scales, that is applied consistently to all employees organisation-wide, we can ensure everyone is receiving the same opportunity to provide and receive feedback.
On top of this, it’s also key that continuous employee feedback takes place on a set schedule and everyone is required to participate, ideally using an automated electronic check-in that gets sent to everyone’s inbox on a recurring schedule.
This helps avoid scenarios where different feedback processes are happening between teams, or where a manager might think certain direct reports don’t need checking in on because they seem to be doing fine. These are common occurrences that can cause big flow-on problems in organisations.
What if your quiet achiever is lacking the resources they need to do their best work, but won’t speak up because they’re not sure their suggestion will be welcome?
What if someone who you think is doing just fine actually feels they are underperforming and wants an opportunity to do more?
These are things a solid continuous employee feedback process can reveal, but only if executed correctly. This brings us to our next major piece of advice.
An even bigger caveat in continuous employee feedback is the employee’s natural tendency to input answers that will be seen as positive, while being scared to give constructive feedback or admit when they need help.
The core benefit of continuous employee feedback is being able to spot issues and help people perform at their peak, so extracting honest answers is vital.
Companies with a healthy and transparent culture will always find it easier to get honest feedback from staff, whereas those that aren’t known to support staff speaking their mind may have a hard time. Wherever your organisation sits, it’s possible to start reshaping a positive culture of open communication and feedback through an optimised feedback process.
So how can this be achieved? One you have a continuous employee feedback system in place and are ready to set-up your master template, here’s what we recommend thinking about:
The first step to help reduce desirability bias is to ensure staff clearly understand why their submitting the check-in form and how the information will be used. This can be as simple as adding a few sentences at the start of the form to let people know the purpose of their feedback is to let their manager know how they can better support the team, where recognition is needed and what resources might be lacking.
Allowing people to answer questions from a set of choices helps them complete the form faster (increasing adoption rates), while also communicating what the expected or “normal” answers might be. If the answer an employee wants to give has been made available as an option, this signals to them that it’s okay to make the selection.
An exception to this would be if certain answers sound “better” than others or there seems to be a clear correct answer that managers want to see. Word all options carefully to take out any emotive language and ensure one answer doesn’t appear to be the best. This can be achieved by asking simple and open questions which are designed to encourage open feedback. A good example might be ‘Is there anything your manager could do more or less of?’, with a free text response.
On top of your multi-choice options, offering optional free text fields for people to elaborate on their answers will not only gather you more valuable qualitative data but will help build confidence in respondents by letting them give more of their side of the story.
Another really crucial tip to help people answer honestly is to avoid making people choose from answers that inspire feelings of shame or denial. A classic example we have seen many times is getting staff to rank themselves on rating scales worded as “under performing, performing, over performing” or similar. No employee is going to feel comfortable rating themselves as underperforming, yet these are exactly who we need to help, and we can’t do so unless they feel confident putting their hand up.
Consider a simple wording change to this rating scale like “needs help, getting there, satisfactory, doing well, outstanding” instead. This instantly shifts the focus from admitting flaws to being proactive and asking for help when it’s needed. Small tweaks like this can have a huge impact on getting honest answers from your people.
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