How managers get upward feedback from their team

Do you often get feedback from your direct reports? If not, you should look into changing the situation. It is important for managers to get upward feedback because there are significant values that can be extracted from these inputs. Soliciting upward feedback helps boost the entire team’s morale.

Most people would rather work for a boss who shows respect to their opinion. By showing trust in the judgement of your employees, you motive them to contribute more and more to the team's success. It is likely that those employees will be more engaged and stay with the company for longer than those who sense a lack of trust.

The values of upward feedback lie on its fresh perspective. A manager is most likely to have a good handle on what is working for the team, and what is not. Yet one person’s perspective can be limited. There are always blind spots that you might not be aware of, thus getting your employees’ insight can be interesting and useful for your role as a manager.

The tricky part is that employees tend to not give feedback to their managers. They lack the confidence to speak up their mind and worry about unwanted consequences if their feedback is not the right thing to say or not welcomed all together. It is important to establish trust between managers and employees in order to appreciate upward feedback. 

How to encourage your team to speak up

Here are some tips you can use to can encourage your employees to speak up and give you more of their honest feedback.

More Feedback From Employees

First of all, you want to set the stage so your people feel comfortable to give feedback. This foundation can be built upon:

  • Acknowledging the hesitancy

  • Asking for feedback regularly

  • Setting a good example

  • Providing options to give feedback anonymously

Let’s look at each pillar of the foundation

Acknowledgement of the hesitancy

In most cases, you need to be explicit. Tell your employees that you welcome constructive feedback and appreciate their advice. The following example can be a version of the narrative:

I know everyone has blind spots that they are not aware of. Mistakes happen to everyone and I am not an exception. I’d like to hear feedback from you. It can be about anything related to my managerial skills or what I have done generally.

Feedback seeking behaviour

You don’t want to wait for others to come to your door to give you feedback. Go out and directly ask your employees. Find out what they think about a current project, idea or process and do this often. 

Frequent 1-on-1 sessions

1-on-1s are a great tool to seek feedback from your employees. You can learn more about how to have effective 1-on-1s in this article.

Good examples

You should provide feedback to your boss and make sure that your team knows about it. Show direct reports that exemplify that you are willing to give feedback to your manager. This will inspire them to speak up to you.

While giving feedback in a direct report, you can ask for additional feedback from the person whom you are receiving feedback from. This is an effective way to stimulate more feedback behaviour across the team.

Options for anonymous feedback

Anonymous feedback is powerful when it comes to critical opinions. Some find it difficult to give this kind of feedback in person. Make sure you provide your employees with the options to share their thoughts anonymously. Get a box where people can submit their ideas as soon as they have one or use a feedback platform like Impraise for your team. 

Honest Feedback From Employees

Secondly, you want to make sure that the feedback you are soliciting is honest. You need constructive criticism as well as praise. Here are two tips to get truthful input from your employees’ feedback.

Ask for examples

Once you receive feedback from your direct reports, you should ask for examples. Examples can help you better understand what your staff is actually trying to express with their feedback.

Let’s presume you get feedback saying “your presentation of the project strategy is excellent”. Here are some follow-up questions you can ask.

  • Can you give me some examples of the good points of the presentation?

  • Which part of the presentation caught your attention the most?

  • Was it easy for you to follow the presentation at all times? Were there any points when I lost you?

  • What could I have done better?”

Create a culture of ownership

You want everyone in the team to feel that they have a stake in the success of the company. A culture of ownership involves:

  • Taking on the responsibility to seek for better ways of doing things. It is considered every team member’s job to improve current practices.

  • Feeling empowered to make one's own judgement about their work and that of others. Consequently, people give feedback when they think that certain procedures need to be discussed.

  • Admitting to mistakes. People are willing to accept constructive criticism and change for the sake of the whole team.

At all costs, you must avoid the type of mentality that says, “Why bother? It is not my job to correct the boss". 

How managers receive upward feedback

The tips mentioned above should help you receive more upward feedback to help you and your team grow. It is important that you receive this feedback with grace and gratitude so that it will continue coming your way.

Here are four things you should pay attention to when receiving upward feedback.

1. Create alignment in interests

Make sure you find out the underlying interests of the feedback giver. The interests of the feedback giver can include:

  • Wanting to help you grow as a leader, so he or she gives feedback on your ability to create a positive atmosphere within the team.

  • Wanting to help himself or herself by improving the work relationship between the two of you. For example, if he or she doesn’t feel motivated by you, some changes could be required from your side.

  • Wanting to help the team. For example, he or she thinks that unclear instructions are affecting the performance of the whole team.

By understanding the motivations of a feedback giver, you will find it easier to sympathize with the feedback given. 

2. Separate WHAT from WHO

You should take into account the credibility of the idea, not its owner. Don’t let your personal feelings about the feedback giver cloud your judgement of their idea.

When you receive critical feedback, this separation is even more important. You should be explicit about not holding the input against the feedback giver, so that your employees don’t have to worry about speaking up in the future.

3. Respect differences

Managers are trained to see the big picture, while employees usually come from a more individualistic perspective. This can lead to differences in opinions. Having a fresh perspective can be very helpful in many situations, such as in the case of roadblock. Even if you do not find that an employee has it right with his or her feedback, show respect to their initiative to speak up.

4. Make a commitment (though agreement is optional)

You are not obligated to agree with all upward feedback. Some opinions are purely circumstantial and not all feedback can be acted on immediately. 

However, you should always make a commitment to show your recognition of the input from a direct report. The level of commitment however can vary.

You can promise to look into the feedback: “I hear what you are saying and I want to think about it. Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

If you see the value straight away, you can commit to think of an action plan. “I can totally see the potential of your idea. Let me look into how to put that into practice. I will come back to you next week.”

It goes without saying that you should follow up as promised.

In brief

Upward feedback can be beneficial to you as the manager and your team. However, it does not come often easily because some employees lack the confidence to speak up. Work towards establishing trust between you and your employees so they feel comfortable enough to come to you with any feedback they might have. Set up the stage for a culture of honest feedback and ownership.

When upward feedback happens, it does not always happen lightly. It requires a skillful manager to receive the feedback well and act on it accordingly. Here are four tips to keep in mind next time your employees give you feedback:

  • Create alignment in interests

  • Separate WHAT from WHO

  • Respect differences

  • Make a commitment

For more insights on how you can use feedback to motivate engage and develop your team download our free eBook