How managers get upward feedback from their team

How often do your managers get feedback from their direct reports? If they don’t, you should look into changing the situation, to support their professional development. It’s important for managers (as everyone else) to regularly receive upwards feedback, as they can learn a lot about themselves and their management styles with the feedback they receive.

There are always blind spots they might not be aware of, thus getting insights from their direct reports can be useful. Soliciting upward feedback also helps set the example, and encourage the development of a culture of feedback, boosting a team’s level of trust.

So how can you tell whether you have the best managers you can? Start leadership reviews to check the pulse of how they’re doing! While individuals may not be used to giving feedback to their managers about their performance, you can support them in getting started.

How to encourage upward feedback

Sharing upward feedback doesn’t come naturally. It can feel intimidating and threatening for individuals who may lack the confidence to speak their mind, or are worried about the consequences of sharing constructive feedback that isn’t well received.

The foundation is to establish psychological safety, both company-wide, on a team level, and between managers and their direct reports. Once people feel that they are in a safe environment, they will be more inclined to start sharing their opinions openly.

Ideally, you want managers to set the stage so people feel comfortable giving feedback. They can do this by:

  1. Acknowledging the hesitancy

In most cases this will require them to be direct by telling their team members they welcome constructive feedback and appreciate their advice. For example:

I know everyone has blind spots that they are not aware of. We all make mistakes and I am no exception. I’d like to hear feedback from you, whether it be about my managerial skills or work in general.

2. Feedback seeking behaviour

Managers shouldn’t wait for others to spontaneously come and give them feedback, they should be regularly asking for it from their direct reports. They should use this as an opportunity to find out what team members think about a current project, idea or process, on a regular basis. 

Holding regular 1:1 meetings with their direct reports is another way for managers to capture feedback and show they are listening, in a more informal setting.

3. Setting a good example

Managers should be able to give upwards feedback themselves, to their managers or senior leadership depending on the line of reporting. If they are transparent about it with their team, even sharing the difficulties they encounter, this not only sets a good example but should inspire employees to speak up.

While giving feedback to a direct report, managers can also seize the opportunity to ask that person for feedback in return, showing that they are open to receiving tips themselves. Once again, this is an effective way to stimulate more feedback sharing across the team.

4. Provide options for anonymous feedback

Anonymous feedback is powerful when it comes to sharing constructive feedback. Most of us struggle to give this type of feedback face to face, and even in writing in can prove challenging.

For managers to show they are open to opinions and eager to create a culture of feedback, help them by providing employees with an option to share feedback anonymously. You could create a “suggestions box” where people can submit their ideas, or you can use a performance management platform that allows people to share feedback anonymously. 

Gathering honest feedback from employees

In order to ensure they are getting honest feedback, here are two tips managers can use.

  1. Ask for examples

When they receive feedback from their direct reports, make sure they ask them to give examples of situations or behaviours they have observed. Examples will help provide more context to managers and make the feedback more actionable.

For example if someone receives feedback saying “your presentation of the project strategy is excellent”. Here are some follow-up questions:

  • Can you share 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?

2. Create a culture of ownership

Everyone in the team should feel they have a stake in the success of the company. This means:

  • Taking responsibility for seeking better ways of doing things. It’s every team member’s job to help 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.

  • Not being afraid of mistakes: people are willing to accept constructive criticism and change for the sake of the whole team.

Receiving upward feedback gracefully

Once managers start to receive more upwards feedback, they also have to set the example by receiving feedback well, so that it continues coming their way.

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

1. Understanding the feedback giver’s interests

These can include:

  • Supporting development of the manager’s leadership skills

  • Helping his or or her own professional development by improving the relationship. 

  • For the larger interests of the team

2. Separate WHAT from WHO

Take into account the credibility of the idea, not its owner. Managers shouldn’t let personal feelings or preconceptions about the feedback giver cloud their judgement.

3. Respect differences

Managers are trained to see the big picture while employees usually come from the perspective of their role, which can lead to differences in opinions. Having a fresh perspective can be very helpful in many situations. Even if managers disagree with an employee’s perspective, they should respect that they took the initiative to come to them.

4. Make a commitment

If the person has raised a valid point that can be addressed, managers have a responsibility to commit to an action plan, either for themselves or that involves the whole team.

In brief

Upward feedback is beneficial to managers and their teams. Help managers work towards establishing trust in their teams, so people feel comfortable to share any feedback they might have. 

The more upward feedback managers receive, the better they will be able to support their teams, as well as work on their own professional development. And in turn, the more you will be able to grow a culture of feedback in your organisation.

To support your managers in their use of feedback, download our free eBook “Using feedback to motivate, engage and develop your team”.