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August 27, 2020

Are you collecting staff input the right way? Ask these 2 questions to find out.

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on August 19, 2021.

    Knowing your voice has been heard by your leadership team is a key driver of employee engagement. However, in an acute crisis, leaders appropriately shift into "command and control" mode to make decisions quickly and efficiently—and in that framework, there's little time for collecting input.

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    When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, leaders faced an acute crisis. But now, as the pandemic stretches on with no end in sight, we're facing a new, long-term operating environment. Leaders must shift accordingly and start collecting more input from their team—both to improve current processes and to bolster engagement by showing staff their voice matters.


    Collecting feedback from frontline staff is especially critical right now for two reasons. First, safety: Staff need to be safe and feel safe when working. Ample personal protective equipment (PPE) and rigorous safety protocols aren't enough. Staff also need to know leaders hear them when they express concerns about safety. Staff feedback on safety can help you identify needed changes or serve as a signal that you need to do more to explain the rationale and evidence behind an existing process or standard.

    The second reason it's so important to collect more feedback right now is the intense financial pressure facing organizations. Leaders will need to make difficult trade-offs in the coming months to ensure their organization's financial viability. These trade-offs will be easier for staff to absorb if they know their input has been heard, and acted upon where possible, along the way.

    Reinvigorate your existing channels for collecting input

    Most organizations already had several methods in place to collect staff input before the pandemic: town halls, employee councils, pulse surveys, and more. As a result, collecting actionable input now isn't a matter of adding to this infrastructure but making full use of the channels you already have.

    Here are some pointers:

    • Embrace virtual channels: Ensure your mix of channels includes some that are fully virtual, such as virtual-only town halls and online feedback surveys. Invest in learning how to use features of virtual platforms such as polling and chat to encourage staff participation.

    • Target your questions: Remember the old saying: "Ask a better question, get a better answer"? That's always good advice, but it's especially important now. Ask staff explicitly what is making them feel unsafe and why. Ask what recent communications have been confusing. Ask what rumors they're hearing and provide clarification.

    • Keep asking: Staff are facing new and evolving challenges with each week—so give them multiple opportunities to share feedback. Instead of a single comprehensive survey, do short pulse surveys. Instead of one hours-long town hall, host multiple short Q&A sessions.

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    2 questions to gut-check your approach

    Many leaders think they regularly ask staff for input—but their team members wouldn't necessarily agree. All too often, this disconnect isn't because leaders aren't asking for input and acting on it—it's because leaders aren't explicitly letting staff know the changes they made in response to feedback. In other words, they aren't "closing the loop."

    Use this two-part litmus test to gut-check your approach to collecting staff input: First, what meaningful changes did you make in the last month in response to staff feedback? If you can name a specific change, then ask yourself: If I picked five frontline team members at random and asked them about this change, would they know about it and how I incorporated their input? "No" to either question suggests an opportunity to strengthen your feedback channels.

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