There are times when we don’t have the most accurate view of how our actions (both good and not-so-good) and styles are perceived and received by others. This lack of awareness is incredibly damaging and risky for anyone in a leadership or management position. 

One of the best ways to develop as a leader or to develop other managers is to uncover these gaps in perception and work to remedy them. By enabling easy paths for upward feedback as part of your organization’s performance management process, you can help ensure that managers are continually developed.

Upward feedback can be sweet and sour.  The potential benefits of fostering a culture of ongoing performance dialogue and continuous improvement can be immensely valuable. Yet, the fear employees experience when providing feedback to their supervisors, coupled with managers’ apprehensions about receiving it, often drive everyone to avoid engaging in such discussions altogether, leading them to retreat from the process. Some employees are likely already engaging in this type of feedback directly with their supervisors, but we don’t recommend leaving it to chance. It will help ease the delivery and reception of this valuable tool and encourage it. What can HR do to help?

Did someone say anonymous? That’s right, we suggest starting with anonymous upward 360° feedback. There are 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 names won’t be stamped to it.

But beyond the anonymity of upward feedback, there is a right time, place, and manner that 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 input or, if anything, set the stage so feedback can be shared.

2. Limit Suggestions to Your Own Opinions. Do not assume that the feedback you give, even anonymously, represents the opinions of the larger employee group, 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 anything that irks them about their supervisor. Keep 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 daily, which bothers you but doesn’t 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 only on 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 be aware of the appreciated actions and behaviors, and you want to reinforce their good qualities, too.

Supervisors: How to Receive Upward Feedback

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

2. Don’t Take it Personally. Leaders have it rough. They are constantly making decisions and judgments to advance the outcome of their team and the company while trying to create a nurturing atmosphere for staff. These colliding priorities leave managers in a tough spot, and there is bound to be less-than-ideal feedback. Don’t take it personally. Use your business maturity to reflect on the input, detect trends to find improvement areas, and use any upward input to develop as a leader. 

3. Don’t Hold it Against Anyone. You might recognize the source of the feedback from the examples 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. If you get some feedback that you disagree with and can support with facts, you aren’t obligated to act on the input. We only ask that you keep an open mind and remain honest about your performance before making that call. Remember, just because you disagree 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, it’s your duty as a leader to adjust your ways to ensure your team operates optimally. Just as you would continue 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 want to create a culture where your feedback is received continuously, we recommend that managers ask for it at the same frequency. Waiting for formal upward feedback only tells your team 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 360°reviews with the click of a button and encourage year-round feedback and performance dialogue between managers and employees.