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Why having an "open door policy" isn't the best way to get feedback.

Often when I ask leaders about their process for receiving feedback, they respond with “I have an open door policy.” While this approach may be rooted in good intent, and with a sincere desire for team members to come in at will and speak freely, the reality is that those leaders probably aren’t actually getting open dialogue or feedback from their team.

If your approach to receiving feedback is resting upon an "I'm here when you want to tell me something" perspective, it will be a rare occasion for team members to initiate that dialogue.

Feedback isn’t a passive exercise, and it’s not enough to simply have an “open door policy.” Leaders need to be active participants in the feedback process and they need to be intentional about creating spaces and opportunities for that type of dialogue.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to begin cultivating a feedback culture is to schedule an “upward feedback” session with your direct reports.

I don't recommend doing this in conjunction with their performance reviews or coaching sessions; rather, make this a separate meeting where you’re soliciting feedback on your performance as a leader. Some great questions to ask include:


  • What are you getting from me that you find helpful?

  • What are (or aren’t) you getting from me that impedes your ability to be effective?

  • What could I do that would help you be more successful?


  • What is our team getting from me that is helpful?

  • What could I do to help our team be more successful?

I like to call these questions "gateway questions" to getting comfortable with feedback. They are open-ended, but targeted to help the person feel more comfortable with responding. If you simply ask "How am I doing?" the individual likely won't know exactly how to answer that question - at least not in a comfortable way.

Asking targeted, open-ended questions provides the other person with a safe, non-threatening way to give you positive and constructive feedback, and it helps you receive critical feedback in a less threatening manner.

By setting aside a specific time to request feedback from your team members, and receiving that feedback effectively, you’ll show your team members that you genuinely want their feedback, you value it, and it’s safe to come to you with that feedback.


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