Comments on: how can I encourage complaints from my employees? https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html Mon, 19 Oct 2020 13:38:22 +0000 hourly 1 By: Rev Helga https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3158010 Mon, 19 Oct 2020 13:38:22 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3158010 In reply to Corporate Goth.

Second and third all of this. I work with military, and typically the best way is to ask about the current situation (aka a sit rep) and then what lessons learned (what you’re calling complaints).

But also, what you’re seeing as complaints might not even register for this person. There’s a lot of stereotypes about military, and they may not be complaining because they genuinely don’t see anything to complain about versus the stereotype of military won’t speak their mind. (Spoiler alert, married to a senior NCO. He speaks his mind. A lot. )

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By: TardyTardis https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3157200 Sun, 18 Oct 2020 00:48:16 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3157200 In reply to Acronyms Are Life (AAL).

That’s right. I used to give suggestions about a few things at one of my jobs. After a while, I stopped.

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By: TardyTardis https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3157193 Sun, 18 Oct 2020 00:46:56 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3157193 In reply to Uranus Wars.

I hear you on that. Before the salespeople were dumped into Concur, I dealt with stacks of manual expense reports. I decided to give everyone a standardized reporting form *that had the codes I needed for them specifically on that form*. We ended up giving everyone trainings on how to use that form. Life was waaay easier (well, except for the attorney who used receipts and total per diem for the same day, wanted to smack him around). I didn’t want to work as late as my predecessor had.

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By: TardyTardis https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3157186 Sun, 18 Oct 2020 00:41:40 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3157186 In reply to Alton Brown’s Evil Twin.

Oh, yes, in some offices it’s ‘let a hundred flowers bloom–here’s the Roundup!’. This actually happens in some places, too.

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By: Former ops manager https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3157051 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 22:10:13 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3157051 My suggestion – try a little role play.
Start easy.
Get out a list of some proposed changes in a narrow area. They can range from tiny and a no brainer to do to clearly stupid and crazy with everything in between. Get your status quo employee to play the role of defender of the status quo. Have him say why should this not be done.

Over time get him to switch up roles and see if you can get him to loosen up by distancing himself from what he’s proposing through the role he’s playing.

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By: Ohlaurdy https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3156700 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 18:19:02 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3156700 In reply to Mary Richards.

Absolutely. Coming up with an abstract way to make something “better” might be tough for people who aren’t usually idea-driven or frequently creating and they might think the current process works fine because they haven’t considered ways to improve yet. Maybe LW could even start out by suggesting a specific change and asking the team’s opinion as a way to brainstorm other improvements.

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By: Hummer on the Hill https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3156085 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 15:14:15 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3156085 In reply to Alton Brown’s Evil Twin.

Years ago my employer had an initiative (one of the better ones) where, when we debriefed after a project, we would ask questions like “What could we have improved on” and “what could have been done differently.” The idea was that a project did get finished, but there are always things you learn along the way. Maybe an approach like this would wotk?

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By: Corporate Goth https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155881 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 13:29:48 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155881 In reply to Sleepytime Tea.

Yeah, at fifteen months I was only starting to get people’s active suggestions, and that was after 15 long months of consistent messaging and making myself vulnerable to the team.

Targeting the “first follower” advice could apply here as well – the video of the guy dancing alone, who is finally joined by one person, then a mob steadily rushes in. It shows it’s safe to join in.

I’d also say explaining why you want to achieve certain things is really helpful. I always find I have to over-explain for more people to understand the goal.

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By: mgguy https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155876 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 13:25:48 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155876 In reply to Budgie Buddy.

Zoom does have “breakout rooms” which can work well for that, to an extent, but it’s still not the same as being there.

I teach Chemistry, and especially for math stuff, but really for any more hands-on type problem, I’ll usually work an example in class, then give them an example to work on their own, come back and solicit the correct answers from them a couple of minutes later. Even in smaller ways, I try to work in ways to reinforce concepts other than the “do you get this?” As an example, yesterday I taught one particular concept that was important, but also tied into most other stuff we were doing. We’d work an example, and then I’d just toss in at the end of it, “By the way, is this endo or exothermic”, and I think by doing that I at least had THAT concept planted firmly by the end of class, even if some of the other stuff.

I’ve always done things like that in the classroom, and fortunately those DO translate well into Zoom, even if there’s not the sort of peer-pressure “I see everyone around me trying this so I should too” that happens with in person classes.

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By: Corporate Goth https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155873 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 13:24:35 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155873 In reply to Bostonian.

OP may have meant it as a contributing factor, but that’s not how it was written. It absolutely lumps a large, disparate group together in a negative and demeaning way, as if individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coasties have zero personal agency or capacity for individual thought.

As written: “If I had to suggest a root cause for this, I suspect it’s because he has a military background and he’s very much a soldier. Head down. Do as you’re told. Don’t question authority. Fall in line and get the job done.”

This attitude shows a lack of understanding of the military that has serious implications for hiring any other veterans, let alone day-to-day interactions and expectations for this employee specifically.

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By: Mongrel https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155707 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 11:04:12 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155707 In reply to pamela voorhees.

We had the “We’re open to all improvement suggestions” then when we suggested improvements were immediately rebutted with “Well, where’s the budget for that going to come from?”.
It tied in well with the Blue-sky on a budget thing they had going, and that budget was whatever they could find down the back of the sofa on the CEOs yacht

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By: Zaphod Beeblebrox https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155654 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 08:23:53 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155654 “You must have something that frustrates you”
“Well, my boss constantly asks me for complaints when I haven’t got any. That can be frustrating”

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By: Points for Anonymity https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155650 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 08:15:19 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155650 Yeah, you’re not asking for complaints, you’re asking for them to share their knowledge and expertise on the company, work, processes and systems.

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By: Budgie Buddy https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155562 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 04:29:12 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155562 In reply to mgguy.

Oooof teaching on Zoom must suck. Can’t really divide people into pairs and circle the room to see who’s nailed it and who’s lagging. :P

I’m a big fan of mini exercises in classes, less “Do you understand y/n?” more “Now see if you can apply this…” I’m actually in a Zoom writing club now, which is different than a class, but we always have a 15 minute prompt and it’s definitely the best part.

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By: RagingADHD https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155550 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 03:57:29 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155550 Possibly Fergus knows that any suggestions are going to turn into new projects that he is tasked with, on top of the excellent work you say he’s already doing.

Perhaps he feels he already has enough work to do, without inventing new deliverables for himself.

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By: Arts Akimbo https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155544 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 02:33:28 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155544 In reply to Artemesia.

“And then report back about ideas you implemented.”

That is so, so important. I was beta testing a web platform once and made a comprehensive list of the bugs I had found and my suggestions for improvement. First, they thanked me (yay!), and second, they implemented almost every single suggestion I gave and fixed all the bugs I had pointed out. It was amazing for my morale! But it would have been better perhaps if they’d reported the changes rather than my stumbling across them, lol.

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By: LizM https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155543 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 02:23:45 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155543 My group does after action reviews, and I find them helpful.

We try to keep them simple: what was planned? what actually happened? why did it happen? what are we going to do next time?

Some people don’t like to point out the negative. I find framing it more neutrally can help get them started and engaged. That also lets you spend time on what went well, which is helpful to reflect on.

As a supervisor, you need to build trust. It’s not clear what the turnover in your role is, but I know a lot of people who are used to new managers coming in with a ton of ideas and then flaming out quickly. They don’t like investing a lot of energy in what may end up being a flash in the pan.

I’d highly recommend the book “the First 90 Days.” Even if youre beyond that timeframe, it had some good suggestions for how to talk to your employees to get information about their priorities and ideas.

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By: Researcher https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155532 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 00:58:52 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155532 In reply to Pennyworth.

I suspect OP means that there are probably *other* inefficiencies, similar to the ones they’ve already identified. And that may very well be true! To your point, it does seem incongruent to say that your employees are rockstars, followed by this critique about not identifying enough problems to solve. OP should trust their employees to continue being excellent, because excellent employees know when to raise issues that need resolutions.

I commend OP for wanting to be such a proactive problem solver, but I solve problems as they come to me. Perhaps my team is short-staffed, but I don’t have the resources to have someone spend time actively looking for problems to solve.

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By: mgguy https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155519 Fri, 16 Oct 2020 00:21:22 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155519 In reply to Budgie Buddy.

That’s why-when I’m teaching-I pause and solicit questions any time I present a concept in lecture, and try to foster an environment where my students feel comfortable speaking up and stopping me at any point if they are lost on something. Granted it doesn’t work for everyone, but getting questions in the moment(or paying attention to your class and seeing that the nodding “yes I get it” comes with a stumped expression-something that unfortunately doesn’t work as well in Zoom) can help a lot of students avoid forgetting their question at the end or whatever. Granted I think it’s in my contract that I have to say “are there any questions” at the end of a lecture :) , but I almost never get them because they’ve been asked along the way.

Still, though I get what you’re saying. When I’m sitting in a talk/presentation, I often jot questions in the margins of my notes so if something is not clarified later in the talk I can remember to ask about it, but I also attend a lot fewer talks now than I did as a student.

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By: AGD https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155499 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:47:33 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155499 In reply to zebra.

Seconded.

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By: complaintanon https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155498 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:45:23 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155498 I always feel like this is a trap coming from management. The way to foster trust with your employees is to be as open with them as possible and receive everything they say with an open mind.

I started a new job recently and my boss has been pressing me lately with “are you happy, is everything going well, etc etc” type questions and I literally can’t be honest. I can’t tell her that I hate my job duties, it’s nothing like what I expected, I’m bored out of my skull, and I feel completely alienated from the rest of the team.

So I just smile and nod.

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By: Lyn By the River https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155493 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:37:25 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155493 I’m definitely someone who struggles to answer the point blank question about “what could we do better.” (this is likely part of my family upbringing to “not be a bother to anyone, ever, for any reason.” yikes.)
I wonder if there are other approaches that could help pull out feedback that people may not even realize. There are Human Centered Design activities (like “card sorting” for prioritization or journey mapping) that can walk people through things that they may take for granted in order to identify where opportunities to make changes could happen. IDEO has a bunch of these activities available on their website that I’ve started using and it has been EYE OPENING.

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By: Jennifer Juniper https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155489 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:35:03 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155489 And the best boss of 2020 is…OP!

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By: Des https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155488 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:33:06 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155488 In reply to The Man, Becky Lynch.

This ^

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By: Pennyworth https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155487 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:31:17 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155487 In reply to Kara S.

I got a very negative vibe from the letter – feedback is characterized as complaint; every company on the planet does silly, stupid and wasteful things; the military mindset is one of mindless obedience etc. I think the OP could benefit from a whole lot of reframing.

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By: Bingo https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155483 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:22:11 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155483 In reply to Ann Perkins.

Personally I’m someone who speaks up in-the-moment (or directly afterwards) if comfortable, but often have trouble remembering those issues when asked. It’s not even that the problems resolve themselves or I get over them, I feel like I just don’t have a section of my brain devoted to “things that need to improve” that I can refer to on the spot for open ended questions like this.

What was helpful was when one of my previous managers would use the Keep-Stop-Start framework. He asked us to talk about what we wanted the team to keep doing, stop doing, and start doing, and why. It became less “try to remember all the ways you’ve thought we could improve things” and more of a “complete this sentence” kind of prompt. For my coworkers who were more hesitant to complain for fear of “seeming negative”, I also think it helped that it was balanced rather than being a list of “bad things”. Lastly it was good for garnering input from both the more proactive types who liked to come up with new ideas and solutions (they tended to have longer “Start” lists) as well as the more reactive types who might not have a perfect solution, but knew that something felt wrong or right (focusing more on the “Keep” and “Stop”).

The other thing that helped was that he would give us ample time to prepare and reflect on it, rather than putting us on the spot, so on Wednesday afternoon he’d say “please reflect on the last few weeks / this most recent project and come prepared with some Keep Stop Starts to Friday’s team meeting”. For someone like me, it helped me to have some time to think outside of work (which can be busy with execution) and also gave me the room to be a bit more careful with my wording, so I could be as direct as possible without worrying that I was starting to rant or ramble.

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By: Pennyworth https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155482 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:19:04 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155482 In reply to Researcher.

I found a disconnect with the following two elements of OP’s letter
”They’re high-performing and thoughtfully recognized by company leadership. We’re all trusted and no one questions our output volume or quality. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to help me dip my toes back into management.”
and
”Like every other company on the planet, we do silly, stupid and wasteful things and those things are my pet peeves.”
1. So are they a dream team or are they prone to do silly, stupid and wasteful things?
2. And if OP is aware of those silly, stupid and wasteful things why is she calling for ”complaints” about them rather than just addressing them?
She seems to have become fixated with Fergus.

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By: Kevin Sours https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155481 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:18:15 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155481 So first off, this really stood out to me: “I really don’t tolerate incessant, non-productive ‘observations’ all day long very well”. If you want people to provide feedback you have to be welcoming of it. And that means tolerating feedback that you can’t act on or otherwise find “non-productive”. Because people are going to have different views about what is and isn’t productive. It really doesn’t take much backlash for people to clam up. You are the boss and people don’t want to annoy the boss. Make sure that you really are treating feedback graciously.

Second, is the problem with the team or with Fergus. If you have people who *are* coming through with the feedback you want, then one approach would be to have team retrospectives to go over problems and process improvement. The point *isn’t* to single Fergus out but to provide examples of the kind of discussions you want to have and to demonstrate that feedback will be handled constructively (it helps to demonstrate that feedback will result is positive changes).

Third, I’ve had good luck “standup” meetings to keep tabs on people and surface frustrations. Particularly with a remote team. One of things we emphasize is “what is getting in the way of your current task” and even when people are reluctant to spell it out, there are frequently verbal clues about where problems are that allow you ask more specific questions like “is there something about X that I can do to help you out?” that might provide information that “what can we change so you can do your job better?” won’t.

But, ultimately, harassing Fergus over it is likely to be counter productive — it’s possible that he doesn’t have anything he really wants to do differently.

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By: old curmudgeon https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155477 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 22:13:30 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155477 In reply to Double A.

I think that one of the most useful words in this process is “Why.”

“Why are we following these steps in this order? What is the objective and how is that objective served by exactly these steps in this order?”

“Why was Project ABC such a success, while similar Project XYZ was a flop?”

“Why did we choose this software option to accomplish our goal rather than that one?”

Interrogating the reasons behind the choices can lead to some lively and informative discussion that can reveal a whole lot more than just someone complaining. “We follow those steps in that order because if we don’t, the left-handed griznoid will explode.” That can lead to a discussion about why the left-handed griznoid is at risk for exploding, which can lead to an exploration of other ways to mitigate that risk, which may allow different steps or a different order in the process.

The reasons behind the choices can also reveal an elegant and efficient solution that does not need any further enhancement! This is particularly true in a group of highly competent and experienced people, as it sounds like the OP works with.

The thing is, until you learn the why, you won’t know if the process is a kludge that exists only to get around a roadblock, or if it is a well-tested and efficient method that achieves the goal in the best possible way.

I’ve been accused of channeling my inner toddler based on how often I ask “why” questions in the workplace, but inevitably I wind up with a far better understanding as a result. Sometimes it leads to process improvement, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, I have greater confidence in and understanding about what is happening.

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By: Massive Dynamic https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155473 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:51:30 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155473 In reply to Richard Hershberger.

+1 – Best to retire the word “complaints” from your work language altogether.

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By: squidarms https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155468 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:45:11 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155468 In reply to Uranus Wars.

Some people can take years to really trust someone, either naturally or because of past experiences. I’m one of those people, and I constantly have to remind myself “there is no reason for you to be this suspicious of this person when they’ve done nothing to warrant it.” It’s even harder when that person is a work superior, because they have the power to really screw up your life if you find that your trust was misplaced.

I agree that the wording Allison suggested might help to build at least a little bit of trust. Asking for suggestions about something specific implies that the OP has already identified a problem and is looking for solutions, which might feel less risky to Fergus. Once he sees that the OP actually does want to improve things, he may feel more comfortable pointing out problem areas himself.

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By: Researcher https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155465 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:35:46 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155465 In reply to hbc.

Oh I like this approach!
Someone’s “knowledge and experience” is often how to get around the roadblocks, too. They’ve been doing it for so long they don’t realize it’s an inefficiency. Voila, you’ve got your answer.

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By: The Man, Becky Lynch https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155464 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:30:38 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155464 In reply to OtherSide.

Oh good gravy. You’re lumping a massive population of humans together again, that’s the whole problem here.

Stop looking at it through your clouded lenses. Very single one of my vast amount of former military family, friends and colleagues have never had a problem understanding “insubordination” is no where near answering someone’s questions of “What frustrates you about this civilian job?”

As someone who actively works to get better treatment for and hopefully one day assistance deprogramming from the military life style, it is not common for them to take it on the chin from some random civilian “management” person. They know the difference between your boss at work and a military officer who can court marshal your ass. Have some respect for the people who have served.

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By: Brownie https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155462 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:29:12 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155462 In reply to Double A.

I keep trying to get my management to realize that #1 is usually the better option because it saves more time over the course of a year. I can spend 8 hours this week to knock 3 hours off a weekly task in the future, at the end of 4 weeks I’ve saved as much time as I spent up front and now anything else until that task scope changes is $PROFIT$ since that freed-up time can be spend on other projects. Start adding in more people, like this weekly task isn’t done by just me but by 6 other people, and the time-savings skyrockets. Why wouldn’t companies want that kind of thing?

Sadly #2 is what happens when management won’t authorize the up-front process improvement time or the person who could write it up/implement it is overwhelmed with work. It’s easier for me to find an extra 10 minutes to do something inefficient compared to finding a 4 hour block of time to make the +10 minute task more efficient for example. I keep seeing this with the management mindset that says they’ve hired exactly enough people to handle only the current workload vs hiring that extra person or two. If people aren’t constantly running at 100% then they have time to make better products/give better support/improve company efficiency, often to the profit of the company over time.

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By: The Man, Becky Lynch https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155452 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:15:14 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155452 I’m confused why you’re so set in thinking that there’s always something, somewhere that must frustrate someone.

I’m the sort of person who does speak up if something is inefficient or frustrating to try to get it solved. This is why I made my way into management in the first place really.

First of all, it’s not complaining. It’s observing and speaking to the correct person about something that may need attention to either tweak, fix or maybe even eliminate a problem. It’s strange to lump it under “Complaining”, which has a negative tone to it. It’s communication.

Second you have to continue to be open to feedback and let everyone know you appreciate their knowledge of processes and things that they’re directly working with, more than someone on the outside usually does. Just continue to ask and engage in the conversations. But don’t start harping and needling them that they must have something going on that they need to address with you. That’s actually something that’d get me to say “What’s frustrating is that you continue to insist something is frustrating me. The only thing bothering me is you. I will let you know if something comes up but it may never actually be necessary to speak to you about.”

You’re trying hard to be a good manager and you’ve got a good idea about it. But you’re also really tripping up here as well. If someone kept pestering me and didn’t cut it out, I’d be looking to leave that team.

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By: Just a visitor https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155447 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:09:46 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155447 I don’t know if this would improve amount of responses or not but is there a way you can assign this to a lead or maybe make a progress team or something. Then they can filter what they find to you? I’m thinking if the staff can all be together without management they may feel more comfortable talking freely. Obviously you can’t watch that meeting with a one way mirror so you’ll need a go between. I’m not sure if that set up would make people more or less trustful, I guess it depends on the person. But depending on the topic I might feel more comfortable talking and brainstorming among my peers and then the lead can deliver a final report like the “team discovered/ thought up/ has a solution, etc”.

Getting insight into business processes can be hard until you’ve gained trust that it won’t blow up in their faces to be critical of a process or that it will be worthwhile. When I was new to the business world I wouldn’t mind chipping in ideas for processes but 9 times out 10 they went nowhere. So why bother.

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By: Hiring Mgr https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155445 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:06:44 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155445 What’s the worst that could happen if Fergus never gives you the feedback you’re looking for but continues to be a great performer? Maybe just let it lie – if the others are more open than you’ll have your answers

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By: Uranus Wars https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155444 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:06:00 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155444 In reply to Sleepytime Tea.

But how long is appropriate – this OP says she has been managing this team for 18 months. I agree it takes time to build trust, but there also has to be movement.

I think OP should change her approach to frame the way Alison suggested. To me that can accomplish you point (build trust and establish buy in) but also get what OP wants (better processes for her people).

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By: orangewater https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155441 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:03:13 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155441 In reply to Budgie Buddy.

I was thinking along these lines as well. I’m in a new role right now, and my manager – who means well – is always encouraging me to ask questions in meetings. She seems concerned that I am secretly full of questions and just too introverted/shy/whatever to ask them. But really and truly, it’s just that my mind goes blank in the meeting. I’m not afraid to ask questions, I just can’t ever seem to think of any when someone puts me on the spot!

I think my manager processes this all as me being weirdly recalcitrant. Since she is someone who can ask 712 pertinent questions about absolutely any topic completely off the top of her head, I think it’s really hard for her to imagine *just not knowing what to say.* I’m getting a similar vibe from LW.

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By: Kara S https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155423 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 20:42:41 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155423 Complaining and giving feedback aren’t the same thing. If you are phrasing things like you do in your letter, your reports might feel like you’re asking them to be negative or whine when in reality you just want to know how they feel things are running.

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By: Double A https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155422 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 20:41:46 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155422 In reply to NotAnotherManager!.

It’s funny because it’s like two different ways of being lazy!

1) This is inefficient and therefore too much work. I need to put a bunch of work in now so I will have less work in the long run so I can be lazy.

vs.

2) Changing this to be more efficient would take a lot of work now. I will just keep putting in a little more work in perpetuity, because I’m too lazy to put in a large amount of work upfront.

(I don’t really think “lazy” is actually what’s going on in either of these mindsets, to be clear, it’s just a funny way to think about it).

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By: Tau https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155418 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 20:38:48 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155418 Coincidentally, I was discussing this with my own manager in my performance review. Like many devs, I work in an environment claiming to do some form of Agile. Continual process improvement and reflecting on what went wrong and how it could be improved is a big part of how we work. And you know what? I’m bad at this. I’m not good at looking back and going “oh, this wasn’t great” and I’m *especially* not good at bridging the gap from there to what could possibly be done to improve it. I’ve been in the position to have my boss ask me “so, what do you think we should change? what complaints to you have?” and to basically shrug my shoulders in their general direction.

Something that helps, and could help in your case too, is to have the process improvement discussions be group discussions. Although if you sit me down and ask me “so what could we change?” my mind will go blank, I can often work with things introduced by others and build off their ideas. At minimum I can say “oh yeah, I totally agree with $Coworker”. (I imagine this might help in the case of past job trauma too, because the guy can see his whole team giving feedback and isn’t singled out.)

But you might just have to accept that you’re not going to get much in the way of process improvement suggestions out of the guy because that’s not how he works, for whatever reason. I myself am grateful my boss went “OK, I understand, no one can be good at everything, let’s focus on your strengths in X and Y” when I mentioned this weakness instead of continuing trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

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By: Ann Perkins https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155411 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 20:29:58 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155411 In reply to WegMeck.

Our organization sometimes does green light, yellow light, red light. Green light = things we’re doing great, we should keep going. Yellow light = be cautious, maybe slow it down or is less of a priority. Red light = we’re going to stop this as it doesn’t add value.

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By: WegMeck https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155406 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 20:27:04 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155406 In reply to Archaeopteryx.

This is almost exactly what I was going to suggest. In many software development methodologies, we have what’s called a “retrospective” on a regular cadence (we have these at the end of each working period of two weeks, as well as at the end of big projects) where we set aside 30-60 minutes as a team to have a structured discussion about what went well, what needs improvement, and what we want to try next working-period or project.

Some great tactics for getting folks to give truly constructive, actionable feedback (both positive and negative) are:
1. Make this a regular, integrated part of your process at intervals that make sense for the cadence of your work (monthly; quarterly; on a project-by-project basis, etc) – it can take some “reps” to build up to the team giving you meaningful feedback EVEN IF the groundwork of trust is there already.

2. Give specific framing “categories” to each kind of feedback. My favorites are “What do we want to keep doing?” “What do we need to do differently?” and “What do we want to stop doing?” – but for more general retrospectives “What went well?” “What do we want to do differently?” and “What do we need to stop or escalate?” can work really well, too. Leading this as part of the software development process, it’s important to be able to differentiate between “what do we want to do differently” and “what do we want to stop altogether” – but that distinction might be less important to you, so two categories might be enough (“What do we want to keep doing?” and “What do we want to do differently?”). The key is that people are MUCH more willing to share specific negative feedback if they can also be very specific about positive feedback (and forcing positive feedback takes the edge off of a barrage of negative feedback as well).

3. In teams where I’ve had a few members who are hesitant to speak up, I find a few tactics helpful:
– Send out a form, document, etc that folks can drop their feedback into, in advance of your meeting (so, folks know they get the feedback doc on Thursday, in advance of your bi-weekly retrospective on Friday, etc). This is helpful for folks who just aren’t on-the-spot verbal thinkers and prefer some time to put their thoughts together (also great if you have folks who are just not comfortable speaking up in meetings, in general). In the meeting itself, you can have folks add feedback real-time, discuss feedback, or prioritize addressing that feedback.
– Take the feedback and go another step, the same way you would if you were leading a brainstorming exercise: have your team work on grouping the feedback on things they want to improve into categories, and then have them each vote on the category they’d like the team to focus on improving (or have you throw your political capital behind, or escalate, etc). This is both helpful as a prioritization and clarification exercise (again, for the same reasons it’s an effective group brainstorming tool) and helps draw out folks who may not feel comfortable voicing specific complaints/areas of opportunity, but who may be more comfortable weighing in on how much something that someone ELSE raises affects them and their work.

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By: Chance of thunderstorm https://www.askamanager.org/2020/10/how-can-i-encourage-complaints-from-my-employees.html#comment-3155405 Thu, 15 Oct 2020 20:25:32 +0000 https://www.askamanager.org/?p=20251#comment-3155405 Another possibility is taking note of how Ferguson communicates. I’ve worked with people that say ‘um maybe we should…’ and it’s a suggestion. However that same phrase from another person means ‘if you don’t pay attention to this right now all hell will break loose.’

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