“To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.” — Eric Hoffer, 20th century American longshoreman and philosopher

Ironically (and tragically), if I am a feedback-impaired manager, I am the least likely to realize it. I am not listening to what people have been trying to tell me. That’s because I am too busy defending myself (or closing down feedback channels). If someone suggests I am defensive, I’ll become defensive about my defensiveness.

Following are just a few of the many ways to get personal feedback:

  • Run anonymous organization or team climate, morale, or satisfaction surveys at least once a year. Review the results with the people who completed the survey to further clarify their feedback. Get them involved in making the improvements they’re suggesting. We call the process Listen, Feedback…Action.
  • Spend heavy amounts of time with people on the front serving lines, production lines, or support offices. You know you’re visible and accessible enough when your presence isn’t a royal visit or special occasion and people are comfortable in challenging your actions and flagging potential problems.
  • Hold regular breakfasts (“muffins with management”), lunches, and celebration dinners with front line teams. Take this time to ask for feedback, concerns, and suggestions. A simple question such as; “What’s the dumbest thing management asks you to do?” can produce powerful insights.
  • Invite front line teams to management meetings to show off their accomplishments, provide input to new directions and plans, or give their views on the state of your organization.
  • At the end of your meetings, spend 10-15 minutes getting participant feedback on the process used to run the meeting. Find out what went well, and how future meetings could use everyone’s time and involvement even more effectively.
  • Use focus groups (a cross-section of typical front line performers) to test new management directions before making grand announcements to everyone. Even if you press on against the advice of the focus groups, you’ll have deeper insights on how to address the issues the new direction may raise.
  • Develop systems, practices, and skills to get continuous feedback on your leadership effectiveness from the people you lead.
  • Get your team into the habit of committing to personal plans and reporting on the leadership actions each of you took to visibly signal the values or priorities your group is espousing. For example, if customer service improvement is a key goal, each team member should report on the amount of time they’re spending with customers.
  • Be very careful about how you receive bad news or problems that are raised. If the messenger feels you blame him or her or they’ll get shot, they will shy away from giving you this feedback in the future. People shouldn’t have to try and gauge your mood or sugar-coat problems and issues in front of you.
  • Hold yourself visibly accountable to the same standards and measures you apply to anyone else. This is an extension of a basic leadership principle — never ask anybody to do anything that you haven’t done or aren’t willing to do yourself.
  • Get rid of management perks and privileges such as special parking spots. You want to knock down the walls and minimize the differences between you and the people on your team or in your organization. You will only be approached with feedback, ideas, and input if you’re approachable. Separating yourself with special perks and privileges makes you less approachable.
  • When giving or receiving feedback, keep it in balance. Point out the strengths or things going well. Use your own Blessing and Brag list to keep your perspective if you’ve been given some painful personal feedback.
  • Don’t assume that no news is good news. Your customers, partners, peers, or team members may have given up on trying to tell you anything. Silence, or purely positive comments, are good indicators of feedback impairment. The problems haven’t gone away; they’ve just gone underground — for now.

Improving personal and organizational performance without constant feedback, is like trying to pin the tail on the donkey when you’re blindfolded. Only through knowing where we are, can we change where we are going.