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Employee feedback is an opportunity for managers to improve their performance and listen to their team. Often, we think of feedback as a one-way street with managers providing feedback to their direct reports. We must remember that feedback is best utilized when it’s a two-way street—it’s equally important and valuable to have employees provide feedback for managers. This is especially important given only 29% of employees say their leader’s vision for the future is aligned with the organization’s, and 16% of employees say their leader’s vision is never or rarely aligned.
These stats can be unsettling for HR professionals. So, what can you do? Promote consistent communication. A study by MIT found that communication was the most critical key to success. Encouraging employees to regularly share feedback for managers is a great way to initiate and continue important conversations in the workplace.
This article will focus on specifically helping employees when it comes to providing feedback to managers—why upward feedback is important, examples of employee feedback for managers, how HR can support, and more.
Why upward feedback is important
Managers play a critical role in the employee experience. In fact, Gallup estimates that managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. If you want to keep your workforce engaged and motivated, start holding managers accountable to keep in contact with their teams. Managers should encourage their direct reports to provide upward feedback on a regular basis and hold follow-up meetings to build collaborative action plans together. Failure to do so can result in disengagement and even worse, high turnover. In fact, more than half of respondents cited a bad manager as the top contributor to a toxic work culture.
A key benefit of upward feedback is that it helps shed light on “in-the-trench” issues that managers may otherwise be unaware of. For example, did you know only 26% of employees who say they’re burned out have told their manager or HR about it? If managers are alerted by their direct reports about potential burnout, they can take real-time action before it’s too late. Give employees a safe space to be open and honest with their manager about their work challenges, whether it’s through one-on-one meetings or anonymous engagement surveys.
Currently, as many as 90% of workers say they’re more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback. Yet, only 12% of employees feel that their manager is doing a great job with soliciting feedback. It’s time for managers to embrace upward feedback as an opportunity to grow as a leader and engage their team. After all, 71% of employees find critical feedback helpful and motivating.
What kind of feedback should you give to a manager?
Like everyone else, managers want to hear positive feedback on their performance — but that doesn’t mean that employees can’t share constructive criticism. Employees should be encouraged to share their comments directly with their manager and should have tools and processes in place to do so effectively.
Feedback from employees to their managers can be informal or formal in nature and don’t need to be mutually exclusive:
Informal feedback: Occurs spontaneously, in the moment or during an interaction.
Formal feedback: Planned and systematically scheduled into workflows
In general, there are four types of constructive feedback:
- Negative feedback: Critical or constructive comments about previous behavior
- Positive feedback: Affirming comments about previous behavior
- Negative feed-forward: Critical or constructive comments surrounding future performance
- Positive feed-forward: Affirming comments surrounding future behavior
While employees can provide feedback at any time, it’s often best done when neither individual (the employee nor the manager) are stressed or frustrated. During 1:1s, quarterly reviews, or during scheduled meeting times are good opportunities to provide manager feedback.
Feedback should be:
- Clear: Well thought-out and communicated directly with the manager
- Succinct: Concise and pointed comments based in fact
- Specific: Be prepared to provide examples and suggestions for improvement
How to give manager feedback (with examples)
In theory, giving feedback is easy, but it’s much harder in practice. Although it can be difficult to provide upward feedback in the moment, it’s important to not wait too long. Feedback given long after the fact will let the issue continue, and it will mean less to the manager after it’s finally given. It could even cause a negative reaction that nothing was said sooner.
To help make the process easier for employees, we’re sharing several best practices for giving feedback to managers, including a few real-world examples.
1. Asking for more guidance
Employees should feel empowered to tell their managers when they need more direction. For example, if you need more guidance on a project, but you know that your manager (and you) hate handholding. Here’s one way to approach this, while showing that you’re proactive and wanting to improve your performance:
“I know you’re busy, but it would help me to have more regular check-ins with you. That way, I can guarantee that I’m on the right track. I’ll better understand what you look for in final projects, get over the learning curve, and then be able to run on my own.”
This informs managers that they need to give more guidance to the employee and that there might be a communication gap. This type of upward feedback will help employees gain managerial support and direction, while improving the way they communicate with their managers moving forward.
2. Offering words of appreciation
Does your manager recognize you frequently? If so, consider returning the favor. Managers want to be recognized just as much as employees. Up to 53% of senior leaders (such as VPs and directors) and 42% of senior managers want more recognition in the workplace. It’s important for employees to give managers positive feedback and offer words of appreciation. If you want to publicly thank you manager for being supportive and recognizing your efforts, you can say the following:
“Thank you for making it a priority to highlight my work. I spent a great deal of time preparing that report, and it meant so much to me that you recognized my efforts in front of everyone during your presentation.”
This also lets the manager know that the employee is inspired by praise and recognition. The manager can then continue to acknowledge the good work that the employee is doing, and maybe even bring them into more meetings with senior leadership.
3. Expressing feelings of stress
Another situation where employees should give their managers feedback is when they’re feeling overworked or overwhelmed. For example, if your manager gives you another task or project, but you know that it’s going to make your plate so full that you won’t perform at your best, you could say the following:
“After some thought, I believe that taking on this extra project would hinder my overall performance. I’m already dedicating 20 hours per week to my client work and another 15 hours to sales enablement, which leaves very little time to help on partnerships. My concern is that I wouldn’t have enough time to fully dedicate to this new area. Can we talk about how to adjust my workload?”
Managers who receive this feedback might not realize how much their employee has taken on. There are likely ways for the manager to modify expectations or switch projects around to ensure that the employee can perform at their best.
4. Providing constructive feedback
If you’re going to say something constructive to your boss, ask whether you can provide feedback first. This is a common courtesy, and prepares your manager for the potential of negative feedback. Once they agree to receiving feedback, preface a difficult comment by two recognitions. Presenting words of appreciation first helps managers feel like you’re recognizing their efforts, too.
Then, dive into the issue at hand. Don’t describe what you’d do if you were the boss, or presume you know everything about the situation—this can cause manager defensiveness. Instead, John Baldoni, a leadership consultant and coach suggests that you frame feedback in the form of your perceptions. For example, your manager came across as a bit abrasive, and it stirred up negative reactions among employees. It’s a fine line to walk to have such a conversation with your manager without causing offense, but you could say something along the lines of:
“Can I offer some feedback?” [Manager agrees.] “You had really good insights and did a great job explaining such a large analysis. But, I noticed that some people in the sales meeting looked disengaged right away. From my perspective, I’m wondering if it might help to start your presentation offering context behind why you’re holding these meetings and acknowledging the team’s recent accomplishments first, before diving into the critiques. This type of approach might resonate better with the team and remind them that you’re there to be a source of help.”
Phrasing feedback this way helps to focus on the fact that you’re working together as a team with a growth mindset approach. Remember that managers want praise for hard work as much as employees do. Think about your own experiences—it feels less criticizing to receive critiques that are balanced with praises. The same goes for your manager.
5. Phrasing feedback as a question
If you’re looking for a different approach than the recognition-first method, try phrasing the feedback as a question. Begin by putting yourself in your manager’s shoes and showing empathy. Make your feedback about specific actions, rather than personality. Managers should be able to actually address the feedback you’re giving.
It might also help to propose potential solutions. This way, you can come in with ideas and appear more proactive. For example, let’s say you’re having a tough time approaching your manager regarding client meetings. You notice clients aren’t satisfied with your manager’s work and you want to help provide feedback on ways to improve. Below is an example of what you could say:
“I know it’s hard to be objective when you’re in the weeds. Would it be helpful for me to track and share my outsider observations of client receptiveness throughout the project? I could take notes that we can review each week and brainstorm on how to keep refining the project so it gets better and better.”
Sometimes you can directly phrase your feedback as a question to simply open up the conversation and put the ball in your manager’s court. For example, if you want to have a candid conversation about needing more support, you can simply ask, “Do you think we have enough resources to meet our goals this year?” Your manager can provide his/her thoughts and you both can continue an organic conversation. Eventually, you can elaborate more on your feedback once you’ve given your manager the chance to share first.
Questions to ask employees for manager feedback
Getting honest, constructive feedback is important for improving manager performance. The quality of the questions you ask employees about their managers matters. To get a complete picture, and to help identify areas for improvement, here are five things to keep in-mind when asking employees for manager feedback:
- Communication skills
– Are you comfortable communicating with your manager?
– How often do you receive recognition from your manager?
– Does your manager clearly communicate their performance expectations?
- Leadership skills
– How confident are you in your manager’s leadership capabilities?
– Is your manager equipped with the skill set to effectively manage your team?
– Is your manager a good role model for you and your team?
– Would you consider your manager a mentor?
– Do you see career advancement opportunities for you within this company?
– Has your manager provided you with mentorship opportunities?
– Do you feel that the expectations of you at work are reasonable?
– When you request support, does your manager act promptly?
– Does your manager express interest in your well-being outside of work?
- Work-life balance
– Do you feel that your manager cares about your mental health and well-being?
– Do they recognize the importance of personal time?
– Does your manager encourage you to have downtime and to use vacation?
When it’s time to turn to HR
If all else fails and your manager just isn’t receptive to feedback, try talking to HR. HR is there to help. A recent survey by Zety revealed that 57% of respondents wouldn’t report interpersonal challenges with their manager. Luckily, more than half the population believes that HR is trustworthy, and nearly 70% of employees feel that HR takes the side of the employee. The key is for HR to resolve any disputes in a fair manner that is reflective of a culture of feedback.
Let’s dive into ways that HR can help support an upward feedback culture.
How HR can support two-way feedback
Managers and employees shouldn’t feel alone in this process. HR can help support two-way feedback for both parties. HR can train leaders to view employee feedback as an opportunity to improve their team performance and instruct them on how to act on feedback quickly. Be sure that your managers act on feedback in ways that align with company goals.
Below are some top tips on how HR can help facilitate a seamless feedback process.
HR departments need to be the biggest advocate of two-way feedback. HR should set the tone and expectations for upward feedback through educating managers and employees on the value of feedback. Employees should be educated on available feedback resources and tools, and incentivized to participate in feedback programs.
Atop of teaching employees about your company’s feedback processes, ensure they feel included in your company culture. When your employees feel they’re a part of a supportive and trusting environment, they’re more likely to offer their feedback.
Host training sessions for managers
Train managers to always ask for feedback during regular check-ins with their direct reports and be thoughtful when responding or acting on it. Encourage them to take a step back and pinpoint what information might be missing. Explain that managers need to take time to acknowledge employees’ feelings, and try to see their point of view. By training your managers to be more accepting of feedback, employees will start to see that their suggestions are received fairly and interpreted as valuable.
In leadership training sessions, urge managers to host one-on-one and team feedback sessions. Ask them to build action plans with their direct reports, not for them. Coach managers on how to appropriately navigate feedback and difficult conversations at work. Trivializing an employee’s thoughts or failing to give straight answers can be damaging to psychological safety in the workplace.
Start a continuous listening approach
Annual surveys aren’t enough on their own. To facilitate regular upward feedback, HR needs to start a continuous listening approach through always-on feedback channels and frequent surveying. Survey frequency happens to correlate with employee engagement, with 41% of employees saying they’re very engaged when given surveys more than four times a year versus 22% when given surveys every other year or less frequently. Given 46% of companies survey only annually and 58% of employees wish their companies surveyed more frequently, it can be a competitive advantage to start a continuous listening approach across your organization.
Implement the right feedback tools
HR can simplify the feedback process by implementing the right feedback tools with a trusted partner. As many as 77% of employees are more likely to provide honest feedback in a survey rather than to their manager. Offer survey tools that make it easy for both employees and managers to send and receive feedback, as well as help employees feel more comfortable in providing honest feedback.
Start with an employee voice solution, which can help spur meaningful, two-way conversations between both parties. Employee voice solutions enable your workforce to share feedback at any time, from anywhere via an always-on feedback channel, check-ins, and pulse surveys.
Many companies supplement annual surveys with pulse surveys to gather more regular feedback. By checking in with your employees more often, you can measure how their responses to an issue changes over time. Making surveys easily accessible encourages participation, yields more reliable results, and helps managers respond to feedback quickly.
Discover 4 ways pulse surveys can positively impact employee engagement.
Companies benefiting from employee feedback tools
Bayhealth, Delaware’s largest non-profit healthcare system, adopted an employee voice solution to level-up their employee listening capabilities beyond their annual engagement survey. Bayhealth added weekly check-ins (automated, confidential chatbot conversations where employees can share how they feel about work and their individual employee experience) and quarterly pulse surveys. The regular check-ins have enabled front-line leaders to receive timely feedback about day-to-day issues that require immediate attention, which is a critical concern in the healthcare industry. The organization has been able to identify not only how employees feel about their work, but also why they’re feeling that way.
“What really improves employee engagement scores is having leaders measure, listen, identify, act, and repeat.” – Lauren Brittingham, Director of Organizational Development, Bayhealth
Another company benefiting from an employee voice solution is Coborn’s, a major grocery retailer. Coborn’s used a traditional engagement survey, but it didn’t provide timely feedback or engage employees in the process. It took about six months from the time a survey was taken until results were received, and action rarely resulted. Coborn’s needed an engagement survey process where they could obtain more frequent and timely feedback, and a process in which they could take action. This is where employee voice solutions came into play and improved the feedback process for the organization.
“We needed an engagement survey process where we could get feedback more frequently, leaders can get their results timely, and then a process by which they can take action. That’s what makes employees feel seen and heard – when they give feedback on something that’s important to them and we take action. Engagement is dynamic. It changes every day. If you’re not continuously seeking feedback from your employees, you’re missing the boat.” – Tara Gronhovd, Director of Learning and Development at Coborn’s.
The right employee voice tools should be able to provide growth ideas for manager feedback into actionable insights in real-time so they can quickly course correct any problem areas with their teams.
10 ways to evaluate a manager
Here are the best tactics to use to evaluate managers:
- Ongoing performance discussions
Continuous check-ins and formal discussions around retrospective performance and forward-looking goals is a great way to ensure that managers stay on track.”
- Professional development
Encouraging (and requiring) ongoing learning and development helps managers keep their skills up-to-date, as well as learn new ways of being better people leaders.
- Team evaluations
Measuring collective success via OKRs (objectives and key results) is another way to evaluate managers — their success is often a measure of the manager’s leadership skills.
- Employee feedback
Asking the team members about whether they feel supported and empowered by their manager provides insight into the manager’s performance.
How long a manager’s direct reports choose to stay in their roles says a lot about their leader’s capabilities and whether they support their team.
Using employee engagement surveys or other tools to track engagement scores over time can help to illuminate trends in manager performance.
Ask the manager to conduct a self-evaluation, reflecting on areas in which they feel they could focus on as well as identifying what they do well.
When you’re ready to share the feedback, ensure that the process ensures fairness and confidentiality.
When communicating an area of concern, be sure to clarify the nature of the issue, the cause, and the recommended way forward.
- Take immediate action
Once clarification on areas of improvement is provided, action should follow to demonstrate respect for the employees’ feedback and help the manager improve their effectiveness.
Build a culture of feedback for your employees
The first step to building a culture of feedback is finding new and innovative ways to listen to your employees’ questions and concerns. They should feel comfortable expressing new ideas and perspectives without fear of repercussion or retaliation. Teach your managers to use anonymous surveys, facilitate open dialogue among their teams, and act on feedback in a timely manner. Depending on employees’ comments, this could mean anything from implementing more streamlined processes, adding more team-building activities, or resolving conflicts within their department.
Obtaining honest feedback on a regular basis is easier said than done. That’s why many companies turn to Achievers Listen, a platform that helps collect timely employee feedback so managers can take action. “As soon as that survey closes, I’m able to see that result,” said Deanna Baker, VP of Talent Network at Blackhawk Network. Achievers Listen comes with pulse surveys and Allie, a chatbot that initiates confidential conversations with your employees via check-ins. Not only that, Achievers Listen monitors benchmarks and historical trends so you can see what teams in your business need improvement at a glance.
How are you empowering your managers to be more effective?
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In this article:
- Why Upward Feedback Is Important?
- What kind of feedback should you give to a manager?
- How To Give Manager Feedback (with examples)
- Questions to ask employees for manager feedback
- When it’s time to turn to HR
- How HR Can Support Two-way Feedback
- 10 ways to evaluate a manager
- Build a culture of feedback for your employees