A former Google exec who now runs her own company says too many leaders make the same big mistake

Meg Crosby
Meg Crosby. Archer Malmo

As a manager, you’re likely accustomed to telling your reports what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and how they can improve their performance.

You may be less used to switching roles and letting your employees give you the same kind of guidance.

But ploughing ahead assuming you’re perfect is hardly a reasonable alternative. In fact, it can be a huge mistake.

That’s according to Meg Crosby, a former Google exec who now runs her own company, PeopleCap Advisors. Crosby managed human resources for Google’s mergers and acquisitions between 2003 and 2008; at PeopleSoft she helps organisations navigate change through a focus on people strategy.

Her experiences working with managers at both Google and PeopleCap taught her that the biggest mistake leaders make is not seeking enough feedback from their employees.

You might think you’re hearing employees’ concerns, but Crosby told Business Insider that the more senior you are and the larger the organisation is, the more “filtered” the feedback you’ll receive.

In other words, employees on the ground level might complain about something to their managers, who report back to their bosses, who report to the executive team, who finally deliver the feedback to the CEO. “It just is diluted at every stage,” Crosby said.

One solution, which PeopleCap uses with clients, is to conduct company-wide employee surveys. Those surveys can ask questions around areas like communication, leadership, culture, and performance.

“The more CEOs [and leaders] can get that very candid feedback and value that and understand it and think about it as they’re making decisions, the better the decisions they will make,” Crosby said.

Job interview, boss, meeting
Ask employees about the key problems in the organisation. WOCinTech Chat/flickr

In fact, research from leadership consultancy Zenger/Folkman suggests that leaders who ask for feedback most often are also the most effective.

Writing in Forbes, Joseph Folkman, president and cofounder of Zenger/Folkman, says that asking for feedback is a better strategy than waiting to receive it unsolicited. That’s because you’ll be in a better position to listen carefully and your employees will try to provide an honest and productive perspective.

As for the survey, Crosby says that once leaders receive the results, the next step is to go back to employees and get more specific feedback on problematic areas.

PeopleCap typically leads focus groups with different groups of employees as well as one-on-one interviews with key people in the organisation. But even if you’re not working with a consultancy, you can select employees from different areas of the company to get more specific examples of how certain problems are occurring.

“Think through solutions for implementing change in those areas,” Crosby said. If you’re not the CEO, figure out how to present that information to senior leadership.

Finally, the CEO should put together a list of themes that they have heard and present that information to employees, as a way of acknowledging that their voices have been heard.

“It doesn’t just end with the interviews,” Crosby said, “but rather the CEO coming back to confirm, ‘This is what I heard, and this is what we’re going to do about it.'”

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