Why listening to your employees isn't all it's cracked up to be

I've read many articles recently about the importance of soliciting feedback from employees so that management is better equipped to make changes.  But it seems to me that most of the advice I've read is incomplete.  You see, there is a lot of discussion about the importance of soliciting feedback, but very little discussion about the importance of questioning that feedback and digging deeper to find out the root cause of the issues identified by the employees.  Listening to your employees isn't going to get you far if your interpretation of their feedback causes you to solve a different problem than the one that actually needs to be solved.

For example, if an employee is overworked and burnt-out he might be inclined to provide feedback indicating that he doesn't get paid enough given how much overtime is required or that he needs more time to do his work.  Without digging deeper, one might conclude that the employee's concerns could be addressed by offering a raise or time in lieu; and depending on the employee that might actually work.  But I'm willing to bet that the real underlying issue is that he doesn't want to work harder or longer even if it is for more money.  Perhaps what is actually required to keep this employee happy is reducing his workload - something that could be achieved by bringing in a junior employee to take on any tasks that can be done by someone else or bringing in a specialist on a contract to help automate any repetitive and time consuming tasks.  But it's impossible to know what will or will not work, unless you engage in an open and frank discussion about why the employee is unhappy and what changes would fix that.

Now some will argue that you can still use feedback forms, surveys and other automated tools to find solutions to these problems so long as you invite the employees to provide recommended fixes to the issues they flag.  But I disagree. We pay our employees to do their jobs and do them well - not to spend their time coming up with strategic solutions for challenges that prevent from doing their jobs.  That is our job as managers, we are the ones that need to ensure that they have the time, space and tools to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

So while I agree that soliciting feedback from employees is necessary for retaining great employees, I would caution that this is only a starting place.  Listening is the easy part, the difficult part is to make sure that you truly hear what your emplolyees are saying.