Test, survey, consult?

How to avoid alienating your employees when asking for feedback on new initiatives - Part 1

Being asked to provide feedback can make people feel valued. Giving people the opportunity to express their views and be involved in workplace initiatives is, generally speaking, an important part of getting staff to engage with new policy initiatives in the workplace. Feeling that your feedback has been ignored, however, can contribute to staff disengaging, disconnecting and, at worst, resisting a new initiative. In large organisations, and even in small ones, where there is a physical or metaphorical gap between those who design policy initiatives and those who are expected to embrace them, making the most of opportunities for feedback is vital, not only for fine-tuning initiatives, but for creating the conditions where people want to engage with them.

On a fundamental level, ‘testing ideas’, ‘surveying groups’ and undertaking ‘stakeholder consultation’ are all about the same thing – accessing feedback. However, these three approaches to accessing feedback are different research methodologies, derive from different disciplines and will offer up different kinds of insights. Selecting a methodology that matches your research question is, for all of these reasons, vital in social research. But in the context of a workplace, or other applied setting, there is another important reason why research methods matter. Your chosen method can itself impact on whether your staff engage with your policy initiative.

Testing ideas, surveying, and consulting all involve research relationships – a relationship between the person asking for feedback and the person whose feedback is sought. However, in each of these methodologies there is a slightly different relationship at play. To put it another way, the person whose feedback is sought, the research subject, is positioned differently in each approach. What this means is that the method itself will create a different set of expectations for the research subject. Quite simply, people will have different expectations of the outcome of participating in idea testing; a survey or a consultation. Raising expectations that you don’t then deliver on is likely to frustrate your research subject and disengage your staff.

Matching research methods to the expectations you want your participants to have can be crucial not only to participant engagement in the research, but to the long-term success of your policy initiative. Before undertaking any research, or feedback mechanism, with your staff it is well advised to spend some time getting clear about exactly what it is you’re wanting from them and then making sure that your research method matches the kind of feedback you’re seeking. It is then equally important that you make clear to your staff why you are asking for their feedback and what they can expect from participating in the research you plan. Part 2 of this blog post series provides some guidance that will help you do just that and ensure that feedback approaches lead to engagement, not frustration.

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