Giving staff the ability to make their views known can help leaders make better decisions, and facilitate the process of taking the overall ‘temperature’ of an organisation.
It also promotes employee engagement, making staff feel more valued. In times of change, turbulence or concern, staff input can serve to both inform and guide. But what are the most effective ways of giving staff a voice, and what are the pros and cons of each?
Incorporating time in meetings for the sharing of staff feedback can provide leaders with up-to-the-minute information on how people feel about what’s going on, what’s working and what isn’t. Setting aside this time will demonstrate that such feedback isn’t just welcomed but actively encouraged.
Benefits: Instant feedback that can be discussed and acted upon as appropriate, as well as opportunities to resolve issues that might otherwise be left to fester.
Caution: This relies on leaders and managers dealing with the feedback they receive in a professional way. If they aren’t equipped to do this, the process can become counterproductive.
2. Staff surveys
These are great for gaining insight into the mindset of your staff, but it’s important to set your objectives before designing a survey and ensure that you ask the right questions. Do you want an insight into your school’s culture, staff input regarding past or future changes, or are you seeking ideas for more general improvements?
Benefits: The anonymity afforded by surveys can provide a useful whole-school snapshot of staff attitudes, which can then be benchmarked against future surveys.
Caution: If you don’t publish the results of a survey or respond to its findings, staff will feel they aren’t being listened to and come to see the activity as a pointless exercise.
3. Suggestion boxes
Placing a suggestion box in the staff room can help generate feedback and ideas throughout the year. It maintains the anonymity of a survey, while enabling staff who feel more self-conscious about speaking up feel more able to contribute.
Benefits: Can provide a confidential feedback route concerning any and all organisational issues.
Caution: Put the box somewhere that’s accessible to all staff but also discreet. Where appropriate, create a process for responding to suggestions, perhaps via regular staff bulletins or INSET days.
4. Wellbeing groups
It doesn’t have to be called this, but if you have a group of colleagues who are keen on promoting staff voice, forums of this type can provide valuable insights into your staff’s thinking and the issues they’re facing.
Benefits: Staff champions can facilitate powerful staff voice exercises that will provide you with quality feedback. Forums are also more informal than meetings or surveys, allowing staff to engage with broader discussions in a free and constructive way.
Caution: These groups ought to be independent, but efforts should be made to ensure that they represent as broad a cross-section of staff as possible.
5. Exit interviews
Sometimes, no matter what you do, staff won’t be willing to put their head above the parapet until they have one foot out of the door.
Benefits: When staff leave, ask about their views of the organisation but also their specific role – what worked, what didn’t, what the organisation could do to improve things for their successor – to aid your recruitment and retention process.
Caution: See that the people undertaking your exit interviews are as neutral as possible. Ideally, you’ll want one regular person to conduct them, such as an SBM. Where this isn’t appropriate, select a colleague that the departing member of staff will feel comfortable talking to.
Laura Williams is a former MAT chief operations officer and school business manager, and the founder of LJ Business Consultancy; for more information, visit ljbusinessconsultancyltd.co.uk or follow @lauraljbusiness