How to find solid suggestions bundled in whining, feedback in the uninformed, and substance in the unrealistic.
- So what do you do when your employee complains? I remember the very first time I complained to a boss. I was in college and I was working for a health club. I was sitting at the school library before I went to work and I was reading the school newspaper. And there was an ad for our health club. But it was a bad ad. The production qualities were poor and the messaging wasn't very good. So I folded up the newspaper into my backpack and I went off to work. And I marched in and I showed it to my boss in front of a whole bunch of our clients. I said, "Look at this ad.
"It's terrible!" Well, my boss called me into his office and said, "Don't ever say anything negative "in front of our clients ever again." End of story. I walked out and I never brought anything up like that ever again. Was I wrong? Yes. I was unskilled in my communication. I didn't think through what I was saying or who I was saying it in front of. But here's the thing that my boss missed. I brought up the issue because I cared. I didn't want to see us look bad.
And after that moment, I never said a negative word again. But I also stopped caring about the business in the way that I once did. Now you don't want that for your employees. So your challenge as a leader is to always spot the intent. Now if you come from the generation that was told don't bring your boss problems, bring them solutions. You might want to rethink that. Because you see, business is really complex now. And just because your employee can spot a problem, it doesn't mean they have the background or context to develop the solution.
But you don't want them to stuff the problem down. You see one of the misplaced stereotypes of the millennials is that they always expect other people to solve their problems. But that's not really true. I mean, think about it. This is the generation who invented Facebook and they've reframed healthcare technology. They do know how to get things done. So if a millennial comes to you with some negative feedback, it's really tempting to just dismiss it as whining. But negative feedback means you have an open door.
You want to keep it that way. That's why you need to listen for context so you can reframe it into a positive discussion. So the first step with any feedback is to determine is this legitimate. Here's an example. Imagine you're walking by your employee's desk and they roll their eyes and complain. (groans) All of these customers are just leaving me these long winded voice mails. Now it would be easy for you to say, "You know, they're our customers. "You need to get over yourself." Or you might think something like, "Well, maybe if you took your headphones off "and answered your phone, "they wouldn't be leaving you so many voice mails." But instead, you'd be better off if you asked, "Why do you think they're calling?" You want the young person to think through the problem.
You want them to start to identify the root cause. You're trying to train them to look for patterns, to be a strategic thinker. If they're annoyed because their customers ramble, well, that's just part of doing business. But if there's a pattern of customer issues, there's a reason they keep calling. You want them to recognize it. Now the second step in managing negative feedback involves determining the depth of the impact. So you want to ask questions like is this an immediate issue or a less pressing matter? What is this costing us? You want the employee thinking through how might we solve this quickly? The third thing you need to remember when you hear a complaint is demonstrate your own positive intent.
Because you see your response to problems sets the tone for your entire culture. Your employees are taking their cues from you. Are you the leader who gets angry quickly? Are you the leader who gets easily frustrated? Are you the one who's defeatist? Or maybe are you the leader that seems like they hate their job? You see people are gonna learn very quickly whether or not they should approach you with challenges. Consider this. In a recent study, only 10% of millennials defined a true business leader as the one who was focused on financial results.
Instead, more than two thirds of millennials said that a true leader was one who demonstrated strategic thinking. Who had inspirational qualities and interpersonal skills. You know what, they're right. It's those qualities that actually help you meet your financial objectives. But you can't do it alone. You need engaged employees. Inspirational posters are not gonna be a fix for you. The way you respond to feedback is what tells your people whether this is a good place to work or a bad place to work.
So when you get feedback, listen, ask questions, frame the conversation around impact, and thank the person. Because they cared enough about their job to bring this issue to your attention.
- Framing the problem
- Interviewing millennials
- Communicating with millennials
- Engaging and retaining millennial talent
- Providing feedback and positive incentives
- Letting millennial employees go