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I am a member of the managerial team at a large international school. I coordinate about 40 staff members. I am considering emailing them at the beginning of next academic year, and possibly at the beginning of every academic year thereafter, with the purpose of soliciting suggestions about how I can better do my job as a manager.

In the email, I would probably specify:

  • Please list your suggestions in order of importance.
  • Please identify any possible drawbacks of each suggestion. (Followed by examples.)
  • Suggestions will be carefully considered, but not necessarily implemented.

On the one hand, it might bring to my attention simple, effective ways to make things better for various stakeholders. Sometimes staff have good ideas but don't let me know about them (maybe they don't want to be seen as a complainer, or they're just shy, or they just forget to mention it). Also, such an email would help foster a culture of open communication.

On the other hand, it might cause animosity. For example, staff might think, "You asked for suggestions; I gave you some very good ones, but you ignored them". Or, I might think, "You're making a suggestion about that particular issue - after everything I've done for you regarding that issue, you're still not satisfied?" Also, implementing the suggestions might have a time cost, and thus negatively impact my work-life balance.

Do you think this is a good idea? If so, is there anything else I should include in the email? If not, is there a better alternative to achieve similiar positive outcomes?

EDIT (after reading Kilisi's pithy & effective comment)

In my email, I would present the idea like: "Suggestions are welcome, if you happen to have any". So it doesn't come across as "homework". Then I would include a few examples of actual suggestions from the past that were helpful to me ("Could someone be put in charge of training students on email etiquette..." or "Could we have a consistent policy on when to return marked exam papers to students...")

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    You want to give them some strange homework where they have no idea what answers you want right at the start?
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 1:43
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    @Kilisi Perhaps "solicit" is not the right word. More like, "Suggestions are welcome, if you happen to have any". So it's not "homework". Then I could include a few examples of the kinds of thing I have in mind ("Could someone be put in charge of training students on email etiquette..." or "Could we have a consistent policy on when to return marked exam papers to students...")
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 1:57
  • How do these subordinates communicate with the management team currently? Do they have regular one-to-ones? This might be a more effective way to get this information than a once-a-year request for suggestions? Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 8:00
  • @mattfreake It's pretty much "if you need to talk to me, then talk to me". There are no regular one-to-ones; it seems like there's no time for that. Good relationships in general, though.
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 8:06
  • You have way too many people you're responsible for... Are there team leaders that you can ask to help coordinate the collection of issues/suggestions?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 15:24

4 Answers 4

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I think it's an awesome idea. Soliciting, encouraging, gathering actionable feedback and suggestions is a hallmark behavior of a good manager. The how can be a pickle though:

  • How do subordinates know it's not an attempt to gather exclusively positive feedback (i.e. praise)? Somehow you'd want to convince them it's an honest attempt at improving vs. patting yourself on the back via subordinate feedback.
  • With that in mind, you'd want to establish some rapport with them, so they know it's a genuine effort at improvement.
  • How do they know that potentially negative feedback (e.g. "1, 2 and 3 very much need improvement" suggesting there's a lot of room for improvement aka maybe you're not doing your job well?) will not result in some form of retaliation?

So I'd divide this task (of gathering honest actionable feedback) into a few sub-tasks:

  • Reach out to allies and trusted coworkers (managers or not) and ask them the same question, what can be improved? What are my blind spots? What do you think I can do to help my subordinates? If they are resistant - that's one of the blind spots - that people you trust don't feel free to provide honest feedback.
  • Then make a list of those and perhaps engage more of your subordinates to anonymously vote on that list, along with leaving room for open ended free form anything goes suggestions and feedback.
  • Build up your reputation as someone who appreciates and rewards honest feedback and does not retaliate for criticism - by fostering such conversations perhaps in smaller groups first.
  • Build up your reputation for fostering ground level initiative, where subordinates' voices are encouraged, heard, and valued.

It's not easy. Perhaps even very hard. So worth it though!

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    Thanks. I will consider taking this staggered approach.
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 2:24
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Make it about them, not you.

'In what way can we help YOU to achieve more efficiency or streamline YOUR experience in positive ways, make things easier for YOU. Do YOU have any particular concerns about current procedures and protocols, or ideas for improvement that we could address?' (~blah blah~)?

... then some examples etc,. to show what sort of feedback you're looking for.

This tends to give people a bit more of a positive outlook on the whole matter and treat it as a chance to have their ideas heard. Keep it short and fairly open ended so that they have plenty of room to let their minds loose in.

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    Thanks, good idea - a "what's-in-it-for-them" approach. That said, I'm also interested in getting staff suggestions about how we can better serve our students.
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 7:58
  • I would think that would fall into it as well just give something along those lines as one of the examples.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 7:59
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    I'm going to add to this, but I think its an important thing no matter what approach you go for. You need to be seen to be transparent in acting on the feedback, publishing what feedback you had somehow (via whatever channels you would usually do that) and showing why or why not you're actioning some things
    – R Davies
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 8:35
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"With the purpose of soliciting suggestions about how I can better do my job as a manager."

I think people will think it's arrogant to expect 40 people to assist you in becoming a better manager.

You should refocus the scope of your questions to be around the managerial team as a whole.

Some of that feedback is going to be quite specific to you as an individual, and others are going to be things like process issues, which presumably as a team you all have a say.

You should implement it as an anonymous survey to ensure that feedback is not biased in any way.

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Make sure you are clear about your goals. You can pick

  1. Improve yourself as a manager
  2. Improve the situation of your staff
  3. Improve the skill, processes and effectiveness of the team ultimately benefiting the students

These are all fairly different things, so clarity if important. If you are primarily after self improvement, I believe 360 feedback would be the better tool. Send out a short anonymous questionnaire to manager, some peers, some staff members: Just four questions:

  1. What did Dan do well?
  2. What do you think could Dan have done better?
  3. What should Dan be doing differently in the future?
  4. Any free from comments about Dan you would like to share? In most places, HR can help administering a 360 survey to protect confidentiality

If actually you want to solicit suggestions you should be transparent about it. What process will you use to assess the suggestions? Will you publish the result and the rationale behind each assessment?

This is not without risk: you may get none (or only few) suggestions. That means people either don't trust you or don't believe you would actually act on anything. If there are no visible results after the survey, you will lose credibility.

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