Giving and receiving feedback is an important aspect of any employee-manager relationship and crucial to helping managers become better leaders. Whether you just want to help your manager strengthen their leadership skills, or you’re asked to weigh in on their performance during the review cycle, upward feedback is a way to share your point of view and help your manager grow professionally.
In this article, we’ll share what upward feedback is, why it’s valuable, and best practices for providing feedback to your manager. Plus, we’ll show you examples of upward feedback from common workplace scenarios to help you understand how to approach your boss with your thoughts and advice.
What is upward feedback?
Upward feedback is given by employees to an individual higher up in the workplace hierarchy, like a manager, skip-level manager, or senior executive. People in these roles have the largest impact on their direct reports’ day-to-day experiences, which means their subordinates can assess their performance, management, and leadership skills.
While upward feedback can be given or requested any time of year, it’s often included in performance appraisals, especially 360-degree reviews, to help provide a more holistic view of a manager’s performance. Like any type of constructive feedback, upward feedback can help managers identify strengths, understand where they may be able to improve the workplace experience for their employees and become better team leaders.
Why is giving feedback to managers important?
No one knows a manager quite like their employees. Upward feedback allows employees to share their unique points of view on manager performance in a way that contributes to their team leader’s success. Here’s a closer look at how this unique type of feedback can benefit people leaders and their employees:
It can identify areas of improvement: Feedback is intended to help individuals grow. When employees share development areas with their manager can help them recognize weaknesses or areas of opportunity they might not be aware of. Once these areas have been identified, the individual can start working to address them.
It can help managers become better leaders: What works for one employee might not work for another. Receiving upward feedback from different people on the team gives managers a better understanding of what qualities their team needs in a leader. Some people need a hands-on manager, while others prefer to work autonomously, and the manager can adjust their leadership style accordingly.
It can support employee careers: A great manager helps fast-track their employees’ careers. They can advocate for their direct reports, raise the visibility of their work, and ensure they're assigned projects they care about. That said, to build the relationship and trust that makes this possible, managers and their direct reports must communicate. Regularly giving feedback to your manager – and listening to the feedback they give you – will help them support you personally and professionally throughout your career.
It can improve team performance: When employees feel properly supported and recognized by their leader, they will likely be more engaged and productive. Plus, knowing their manager has their back can even boost retention.
Best practices for giving feedback to managers
There's a certain power dynamic at play that can make giving upward feedback challenging or even uncomfortable, but don’t let that hold you back. As long as your feedback is designed to help your manager grow, you’ll be fine. Here are our top tips for giving feedback to a manager or senior leader:
1. Choose the right environment to deliver your feedback
When delivering upward feedback, especially constructive criticism, be mindful of when and where you speak with your manager. If you’re on a video conference call in a noisy coffee shop, you might want to skip shouting over the espresso machine and find a better time to deliver your feedback. Sharing constructive feedback is best done one-on-one, so a department or client meeting isn’t your best option. Choosing an appropriate time and place to share your thoughts, like a private meeting, improves the likelihood that your feedback will land successfully and that your manager will be receptive to what you have to share.
2. Maintain a respectful and professional tone
Giving and receiving feedback can be a bit emotional, but try your best to keep your feelings in check and remain objective. Always treat the person at the other end of your feedback respectfully and use a professional tone to get your point across. While it’s important to share feedback in a timely fashion, it doesn’t have to immediately follow an occurrence. If a particular event or behavior has upset you, take some time to cool off, focus your thoughts, and then approach your manager with your feedback calmly and collectedly.
3. Recognize the good and the bad
Effective feedback is all about balance. You don’t want to be overly negative, as your recipient may tune out or dismiss what you’re saying. On the other hand, overly complimentary feedback is less useful from a professional development standpoint. Constructive feedback finds a balance between praising the individual’s strengths and offering suggestions on how they can improve in the future. This helps the manager understand what to keep doing and what behaviors they should change to become a better leader.
4. Focus on the future
To keep your feedback solution-oriented, offer your idea of the best way forward. Future-focused feedback, or “feed forward” as it's sometimes called, is intended to help its recipient grow. Instead of concentrating on the past, discuss potential solutions, such as behavior changes they could make moving forward.
5. Follow up
To hold the recipient accountable, be prepared to revisit your feedback. After sharing upward feedback, establish a plan for regular progress check-ins (this can take place during your weekly 1-on-1 meetings), and continue to share ongoing feedback in these conversations as well.
Check out more tips on how to give effective feedback in our blog, “3 strategies for giving better feedback.”
Giving feedback to managers examples
When giving upward feedback to managers, you’ll want to share your thoughts in a detailed, objective, and future-focused way. To help, we recommend following these steps when crafting your feedback to managers:
Provide context - Share specific examples of when your manager exhibited these types of behaviors.
Share the impact - Highlight the impact this situation has had on you, your work, your team, etc. and explain why you’re bringing it to your manager’s attention.
Propose next steps - Present a future-oriented solution that could improve this behavior or prevent a similar situation from happening again.
With this framework in mind, here are a few examples of how to give upward feedback to managers:
Confusing priorities: Ever need extra guidance on a project or help prioritizing your workload? Here’s how you can express that to a manager:
- “I wanted to talk to you about Project X. I’ve been hearing conflicting information from you and stakeholders on another team. This has halted the project and been a source of confusion and frustration for me and my peers. I need more clarity from you on Project X in order to move forward with my work and ensure this project is a success.”
Praise: Did your manager do something that means a lot to you? Let them know! Here’s an example of how you can praise your manager’s strengths and encourage them to continue these types of behaviors:
- “I want to thank you for having my back. My coworkers tell me that you’re always raising awareness of my work and its impact. Thank you for being an amazing advocate for me when I am not in the room. I feel very valued by you and hope you continue to act as my champion!”
Workload: While they try their best, managers don’t always know the full extent of what you’re working on and when you’re slammed. In these situations, it’s best to speak up for yourself and let them know, so they can help you prioritize your projects or delegate projects to other members of your team.
- “While I appreciate you throwing new, exciting projects my way, I am quite overwhelmed at the moment. Unfortunately, I feel that certain areas of my work are starting to suffer because of this additional workload. Would it be possible to revisit my workload and discuss which projects are a top priority moving forwards, as well as which can wait until next quarter?”
- “You’re always so organized during our team meetings, and your clear agendas help keep us on-task. That said, I’ve noticed you haven’t had time to make an agenda for our last few meetings and have seemed distracted lately. Is there anything I can take off your plate?”
Team morale: While managers are in charge of the overall well-being of their team, they don’t always have a pulse on how morale is changing. If you notice high tensions on the team or your colleagues burning out, it might be time to let your manager know.
- “After the recent layoffs, team morale took a nosedive. I feel like our team isn’t getting the facetime we used to. I think it would be nice if we could highlight more team wins and internal success stories in our weekly meetings to help revive team motivation. If we have the resources, I’d also love it if we could plan an event to bring the team together in person next quarter!”
Work-life balance: There are two sides to every story. Sometimes it just takes hearing another person’s perspective to realize how your actions could be interpreted differently than you intended.
- “You are such a hard worker. Everyone on the team knows you’ll go above and beyond to help our team succeed, even if that means pulling some late nights. Unfortunately, when some members of our team see you working long hours, they feel pressured to do the same – or at least keep their work phones close by to reply to your late-night emails. While I know you’re a night owl and prefer to work later in the evenings, would it be possible to schedule your instant messages and emails to send at 9 AM the next day? That might help alleviate some of the pressure our teammates feel to respond.”
Upward feedback is a key component of 360-degree reviews. With Culture Amp’s performance management system, your business can easily request and collect feedback from an individual’s manager, peers, direct reports, and cross-functional colleagues. Hearing from all these people allows your business to introduce a more diverse set of perspectives to the review process and ensures every employee leaves with an actionable development plan for the future.
Build more objective performance evaluations and drive development within your organization