It’s not always easy for the boss to know the truth. That’s because employees aren’t always fully honest with the person who signs their paycheque—especially when reality isn’t quite so rosy. Yet few businesses thrive when the CEO doesn’t know the full picture. Recently, we asked readers and experts to share what they do to get honest, constructive feedback from their staff. Here are some of our favourite responses:

1. Make yourself less scary

“I regularly do lunch with a team member whose name I’ve randomly drawn. I can tell they’re usually nervous at first. But once we get talking about things like their families and their backgrounds, it puts them at ease. That makes them more comfortable to tell me what’s really going on or their ideas for things we might do differently. If I want them to be honest with me, they have to know that I’m a person too.”
—Sherri Stevens, president, SRG, Ingersoll, Ont.

Read: The 4 Things Great Bosses Do

2. Ask for it directly…

“Assume that when people have something on their minds, they’re not just going to come to your office or speak up in a meeting. You have to actively solicit their feedback. That might mean saying things like, ‘We’ve been talking about a change in direction. Nobody here has pushed back on the timeline, the feasibility or the wisdom of this. Let’s agree to discuss three possible problems before we leave the meeting today.’ You can do that in an impromptu way, or you can be more systematic about it by, say, randomly appointing someone to play devil’s advocate in each meeting.”
—James Detert, associate professor of management, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Ithaca, N.Y.

3. …Or indirectly

“Use open-ended questions instead of those that can be answered with a yes or no. If you ask people, ‘Is there anything I do that bothers you?’ they’ll probably just say no, because they’re afraid to tell you they don’t like something you did. Instead, ask them to tell you about a specific time in the past month when they felt excited about their work. Then, as they get rolling, ask them about a time they felt irritated. Allowing them to tell you what’s going on in a way that’s not a direct attack on you is very conducive to honesty.”
Mark Murphy, author, Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give It Their All, and They’ll Give You Even More, and chairman and CEO, Leadership IQ, Atlanta

4. Create a comfortable environment

“Be very aware of your own body language. You want to look open. Are you having the conversation from behind your desk in your office or at a coffee shop beside one another? Are you sitting back with your arms crossed, or are you leaning slightly forward? Are you making regular eye contact with the person you’re talking to? It’s very much about creating an environment in which someone feels safe.”
Jill Geddes, partner, Trillium Teams, Ottawa

Read: Do You Really Know How Your Business Runs?

5. Pay attention

“If people bring you concerns or ideas, put them at ease by being an active listener—which can be hard for bosses to do. Paraphrase what you’ve heard. Tell them what you like about it, what has potential, and what needs work and refinement. By demonstrating a willingness to be influenced, you encourage people to come forward.”
Richard Lepsinger, author, The Art and Science of 360 Degree Feedback, and president, OnPoint Consulting, New York

6. Follow through

“We gather feedback in a lot of ways. I have an open door policy, we have a suggestion box, and we have an internal chat system in which people can provide ideas anonymously. I’ve learned that the most important thing is to follow through on what people tell you. Lots of companies gather information from employees but then lock it in a room. Only a few people get to see the results, and nothing is done with them because people get busy. If you ignore feedback or just don’t do anything with it, then people will stop providing it.”
—Robert Offley, president, CentriLogic Inc., Mississauga, Ont.

This article is from the December 2014 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!

What do you do to get feedback from your people? Have you tried any of these methods? Would you? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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