Upward Feedback – Why You Shouldn’t Leave it to ChanceThere are times when managers don’t have the most accurate view of how their actions (both good and not so good) and styles are perceived and received by their reports. One of the best ways to reduce that gap is by soliciting upward feedback as part of your organization’s performance management process.

Upward feedback can be sweet and sour though. Its value in terms of promoting a culture of ongoing performance dialogue and continuous improvement can be as rewarding as a pot of gold at the end of your talent management rainbow; however, the intimidation that employees feel when giving feedback to their supervisors along with the thorny reality managers might feel when receiving it, can send everyone running for the hills to avoid it. There are likely some employees already engaging in this type of feedback directly with their supervisors but we don’t recommend leaving it to chance – help ease the delivery and reception of this valuable tool as well as encourage it. What can HR do to help?

Did someone say anonymous? That’s right, we suggest starting off with anonymous upward 360° feedback. No names, just feedback. Supervisors still benefit from learning how their reports see them, and employees have a bit of cushion when giving because their name won’t be stamped to it.

But beyond the anonymity of upward feedback, there is a right time, place and manner that both managers and employees should be aware of.

Here are some tips for giving and getting upward feedback:

Employees: Ways to Give Effective Upward Feedback

1. Wait to Be Invited. Or should you? Even if the boss doesn’t ask for that feedback or HR doesn’t solicit it, employees can make the suggestion – the Harvard Business Review suggests asking whether a supervisor would like periodic feedback during a new project. This might open the door to ongoing upward feedback or if anything, sets the stage so feedback can be shared.

2. Limit Suggestions to Your Own Opinions. Do not assume that feedback you give, even anonymously, represents the opinions of the larger group of employee and be careful not to frame your feedback in a way that suggests it. Also, limit your suggestions to work-related issues. Do not make it personal.

3. Keep it Real: Some employees might take this opportunity to shoot out any and every little thing that irks them about their supervisor. Keep any feedback restricted to observable work-related instances and remove emotions as much as possible. The point of upward feedback isn’t to make the supervisor feel bad, it’s to provide examples of how their behavior either positively or negatively affects performance or results so that positive changes can be made or good things can be maintained. If your supervisor smells like bananas every day and that bothers you, but doesn’t really affect how you work, maybe think a little about it before noting it as feedback.

4. Frame your Feedback Effectively: Giving feedback is step 1 towards improving how your manager interacts with you. Exacting change with suggestions takes it to the next level! We suggest framing any feedback in a way that focuses on solutions by sharing the action or example in question, the result and then offering a solution; for instance:

Action –> Result –> Solution   

When you_________, it __________.  Going forward, I would recommend _________.

Framing feedback in such a way expresses the nature of the feedback with examples but it goes a step further by giving supervisors a little help with the ‘how’.

When you change your mind at the last minute with design projects, it causes me to rework the files and lose time on other projects. Going forward, I would recommend  taking more time to review the draft before confirming.”

5. Don’t Forget the Good! You might be tempted to focus on just the negative actions and behaviors but don’t forget to share your thoughts on what your supervisor does that HELPS you perform better. They might not know and you want to make sure to reinforce their good qualities too.

Supervisors: How to Receive Upward Feedback

1. Review Feedback Outside of the Office.  If you review employee feedback in your office with the door closed and all of your subordinates outside the door, it could create distractions, tension in the office and worry amongst your personnel, which can harm productivity. Take it home when you have a chance to grab a coffee and review in detail, far away from the sources.

2. Don’t Take it Personally. Leaders have it rough. You are constantly making decisions and judgements to advance the outcome of your particular unit or team, all while trying to make a nurturing atmosphere for your staff. These colliding priorities leave managers in a tough spot and there is bound to be some less than ideal feedback. Don’t take it personally. Use your business maturity to reflect on the feedback and detect trends to find areas where you can feasibly improve. Remember that unlike you, most employees have not been given formal training for giving feedback and thus you will likely have some very raw information to absorb.

3. Don’t Hold it Against Anyone. You might recognize the source of the feedback from the examples used or tone of writing. Don’t hold the feedback against any employee. They are sharing their thoughts and no matter how ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ you feel they are, you won’t do anyone any favors by looming it over their heads and creating a whole new problem.

4. Agreement is Optional. Here’s the thing…if you get some feedback that you don’t agree with and can support with facts, then you aren’t obligated to act on the feedback. We only ask that you keep an open mind and remain honest about your own performance before making that call. Remember, just because you don’t agree, doesn’t mean that your team’s performance isn’t suffering because of it.

5. Use It. Use the feedback as an opportunity to grow. Just because you might not agree with some of it, if it is a trend among your team then it’s your duty as a leader to adjust your ways to ensure your team is operating at optimal capacity.  Just as you would continue on with anything you realize you are doing well, you are expected to change your approach to anything you might be less effective at.

6. Ask for more! If you are looking to create a culture where your feedback is received on an ongoing basis, then we recommend that managers ask for it in the same frequency. Waiting for formal upward feedback only tells your team that they can’t come to you if they have a burning issue. Find ways to encourage a performance dialogue with your team and you will be rewarded with much less shock and processing when formal feedback is solicited and you will see the results much sooner.

Making it easy with technology. If you’re looking for a way to implement upward feedback as part of your talent management processes, consider emPerform, which offers the opportunity to launch anonymous surveys and/or 360°reviews with the click of a button and encourage year-round feedback and performance dialogue between managers and employees.