A great disability support organisation that is customer-centric and innovative requires two core ingredients: insight and empathy at an executive level.
Opportunities can only be identified when you have a finger on the pulse of your organisation, with an understanding of the internal culture and your customers. Without insight, it’s challenging for limitations to be addressed or issues to be resolved.
When we surveyed frontline support workers, we discovered a major roadblock that could be preventing many leaders from having this understanding of their operations. Our survey revealed that less than half of employees (42%) have monthly check-ins with their managers.
In a business where a large percentage of employees work off-site in the community and customer homes, this presents an enormous hurdle for senior leaders. How can you feel reliably informed on your operations without an understanding of what is happening on your frontline? How can your managers lead with empathy if they don’t have an understanding of what is important and unique to their team members?
Why you should be creating a ‘feedback culture’
How you listen — and show that you’re listening — as a leader has a significant impact on employee engagement and morale. When management teams and frontline staff feel confident in you as a leader, they’re more likely to feel connected to the organisation and motivated to produce great work.
Collecting feedback is not as straightforward as it sounds. In isolation, it’s not enough to make people feel heard — nor is it enough to propel your people forward. Feedback and communication need to be a dynamic loop, ingrained in your culture. A persistent process of listening, learning and demonstrating action that starts at the top.
For example, if you send out annual surveys to measure staff engagement without communicating the findings or demonstrating how senior leadership will address concerns, employees will tire of them. After all, what is the point in filling out a survey if you know nothing will change or that feedback never reaches real decision-makers?
Here are 5 ways to use feedback and communication to develop real insights that will drive better outcomes for your organisation, its staff and customers.
5 ways to collect feedback and demonstrate action
1. Create feedback rituals and encourage ideas
Feedback rituals are simple, informal gestures that invite people to tell you what’s taking place in your organisation. This could happen regularly as part of project debriefs, monthly 1:1 meetings, annual staff parties, even weekly emails. Knowing that many of your employees are casual and work off-site, an example could be a weekly practice of asking people to share over email:
- Learnings and/or wins of the week
- A nomination for a staff member who best demonstrated your organisation’s values
- Ideas for how to address a common challenge
As a senior leader, the behaviour you demonstrate will often be repeated. Encourage feedback rituals with your direct reports and ask them to do the same with their teams.
How to take action: Designate someone to record feedback so that ideas can be shared and explored easily. Demonstrate listening by recognising people who decide to share and follow up with them when action is taken. If managers are asking their team members to share stories and successes, they should acknowledge them within their team or highlight their success on your blog and LinkedIn page to showcase the great work of your talent. Similarly, if someone shares difficult feedback, acknowledge that this can be challenging and thank them for their honesty. Behaviour that is recognised is more likely to be repeated.
2. Implement monthly check-ins with managers
As mentioned earlier, our survey showed that less than half of frontline support workers have monthly check-ins with their managers. We get it, disability support workers rarely have a desk let alone regular time in the office. However, it’s worth noting that of the people that do have monthly check-ins with their manager, 96% would recommend working for their employer.
This is no coincidence. It’s because employees that connect regularly with their managers have more of an opportunity to feel heard and appreciated. They have a direct channel to provide and receive feedback, bring new ideas and advocate for their customers. They also have an opportunity to raise concerns, follow up on incident reports and discuss the challenges they face on a daily basis. For example, if a team member has a new idea for how to improve services for customers, it could be the next big idea for developing your service offerings. As a senior leader, acknowledging where staff have contributed to achieving the vision of the organisation is a great way to further encourage a culture of open sharing.
Even if it’s not face-to-face, managers should be taking the time to check in with their team members at least once a month not just to assess performance — but also to ensure they are coping with the demands of the role.
How to take action: To ensure ideas and concerns are taken seriously by the organisation at large, senior leaders should invite managers to champion their team’s ideas and share relevant knowledge gained from these conversations. Set up your own monthly check-ins, inviting them to bring items to your attention without being concerned about disturbing you.
3. Send out annual engagement surveys
Many organisations already have tools in place to survey their staff once a year. However, as a senior leader you should also ensure there is a well-executed plan of action in place for how the organisation shares and actions feedback so that these surveys are taken seriously.
Pip Jankowski, Head of People and Culture at Victorian provider, Leisure Networks, recommends developing initiatives that allow staff to contribute to the vision and direction of the organisation. “We don’t just share our strategic plans, we get them involved,” explains Pip.
Our people do difficult, challenging work, but it’s also really rewarding for them. It’s our responsibility to work hard on addressing their concerns and show them that we are taking action where necessary
How to take action: Share the results of these surveys with the entire organisation, along with SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) that senior management is working toward. This shows the wider organisation tangible goals that you’re working towards, while also letting team members know that you have heard their feedback and intend to do something about it. It’s also a good idea to follow up with a mid-year survey to gauge how you’re doing and remain accountable.
4. Exit interviews
The disability support industry is facing a workforce shortage. Just as your HR team should focus on recruitment and retention programs — they should also understand why people choose to leave and make sure this feedback gets to you. While exit interviews are a HR function, if you have visibility on this feedback you will be in a better position to identify opportunities and gaps within your organisation. It could be that there is an issue with the working environment that could lead to bigger problems down the track. Or perhaps frontline workers don’t feel that their customers are being adequately supported. Whatever the problem, feedback should be encouraged from any team member leaving the organisation — be it a formal interview, phone call or even email asking for feedback.
How to take action: If a team member provides feedback during an exit interview, don’t let it sit collecting dust in a filing cabinet. Implement a process for exit feedback to be shared with management teams and senior leaders to discuss and identify tactics that could support retention programs — learning from what staff perceive to be an issue. If that person is a member of a team, ask managers to discuss relevant feedback with the wider group to show how you’re taking action.
5. Lead by example
Though most employees don’t regularly interact with members of the C-suite or executive teams, decisions made by leadership impact everyone. When leaders make decisions in silos without explanation, it can be hard for others within the organisation to understand or get on board with changes. Whether in a meeting or company email, make time to explain decisions and allow people to respond and ask questions. Asking for your own honest critique is one of the easiest ways to encourage a culture of feedback, simply by showing that no one in your organisation is above reproach.
For example, you could ask for feedback regarding a new initiative, or provide opportunities for staff to give open-ended feedback by asking questions such as:
- Is there anything I’m doing well that you would like to see continue?
- Are there any current initiatives within the organisation that you would like to see handled differently?
- Are there any policies/decisions that you would like more information on?
- Is there anything you would like me to focus on over the next quarter?
The NDIS is a complex scheme with regular (and heavily legislated!) changes, so it’s important not to overlook that it may be difficult for frontline employees and their customers to understand the decisions that have been made at the top. By being transparent in your communication, you have an opportunity to explain decisions, outline the outcomes you’re working towards and identify what others perceive to be issues within your organisation.
How to take action: When you ask for feedback, make time to address it. This could take the form of hosting an ‘Ask Me Anything’ discussion session, sending an email, or providing management with information to circulate to their teams.
Feedback helps you innovate faster and drive better outcomes
Leaders who ask and listen get rewarded with critical insights into the strengths and limitations of their organisation. This invaluable information will help you identify opportunities to innovate faster and drive better outcomes for customers.
For deeper insights into the current state of the support workforce, along with advice from three experts in the disability support industry, access our free resource The Support Workforce Guide.