Manager Effectiveness

Leadership has evolved. Instead of a command-and-control approach, modern managers strive to give their teams all they need to efficiently achieve goals. To do it right, managers need to be aware of what they do well and how they can improve. Regular and reliable feedback is the best way to get that knowledge.

Manager effectiveness surveys collect upward feedback as a basis to develop great managers. Gathered insights help new managers transition into mature people leaders. Experienced managers can use the intel to power their ongoing development.

In this People Geek Guide, we’ll look at:

  1. why management effectiveness assessments are important
  2. how regularly assessments should take place
  3. four key steps to finding out where managers are shining bright and where they could use a little extra polish

Why assess manager effectiveness?

Great leaders inspire people to succeed. The managerial skills that underpin leadership behaviors can be learned and nurtured. Even gifted managers can improve with the right support, but discovering what is right isn’t always easy.

Manager effectiveness is always important, but certain situations make the need to understand it particularly acute. Some of the events and needs that have prompted Culture Amp customers to implement a manager effectiveness assessment include:

Training needs and impacts: Selecting and training managers takes a lot of time and effort. It’s vital to identify the right areas for development and measure the impact of initiatives. Programs with a clear positive effect may be repeated or rolled out more broadly. Ineffective programs can be fine-tuned or abandoned.

Rapid organizational growth: Organizations experiencing rapid growth can use manager effectiveness surveys to help managers grow as expansion continues. New managers need measurement and support. It’s important to ensure that the folks with technical expertise are also effective at leading people. It’s also important that the management styles of new hires are aligned with the existing culture and team expectations.

Business transformation: As a business model transforms, managers need to adapt. Manager Effectiveness assessments provide reliable and actionable insights to help managers and their teams evolve to suit the new structure.

Employee feedback: Employee feedback can reveal key drivers of engagement. They may want better communication, a better understanding of how their work impacts organizational success, or more confidence in their leaders. A manager effectiveness survey can show how managers are going, and what areas could benefit from more attention.

Employee turnover: Research from Culture Amp shows that managers are not usually the biggest influence on retention. But, in isolated cases, they can be a reason staff leave. Both managers and team members need to feel they have the tools to succeed in their role. Otherwise, they get frustrated - and that can lead them to look elsewhere for career opportunities. Manager effectiveness surveys can diagnose areas for improvement and may even identify remedies.

“Going from being an individual contributor to a manager can be a big (and scary) leap. Managers need support—not just in the beginning, but as they grow into their own styles and refine their approach over time. Feedback lets managers know what they can do to improve. Without it, they are left to their own devices to figure things out, often at the expense of the people they manage. It’s getting easier and easier to arm managers with the feedback and coaching they need to boost their ongoing learning and development and we see the rewards in more engaged managers, and teams, every day.”

- Myra Cannon, Insights Strategist, Culture Amp

Cadence of manager effectiveness assessments

As a rule, an organization should only survey as often it can act.

Allow enough time in between surveys for meaningful (and noticeable) progress to be made. People are more likely to get fatigued by inaction and ineffectiveness than they are by new surveys. If they see little or no change since the last survey, they’re less likely to take the next one seriously.

How often is too often? When is it often enough?

Surveying too much can make managers feel unnecessarily pressured to effect a visible shift in the metrics. On the other hand, too few inquiries into a certain topic can make it seem like a low priority.

As rules of thumb:

  • Organizations that are strong on gathering and acting on feedback can deploy upward feedback surveys twice a year.
  • Organizations less focused on gathering and acting may be better served by running upward feedback surveys annually.

Survey cadence

Upskilling managers to drive organizational success is an ongoing process. To do it well, we must consistently identify and re-evaluate priorities.

Using a cycle of collecting information, analysing results and then sharing and taking action, we can support managers in continuous improvement.

The employee feedback loop: design and collect, analyze and understand, share and act.

Four steps to assess manager effectiveness

These four steps will get any organization onto the right track to understand the effectiveness of their managers:

  1. Make a pre-launch checklist
  2. Optimize conditions for feedback and learning
  3. Analyze and understand upward feedback
  4. Share results and take action.

Step 1. Make a pre-launch checklist

Before launching your survey, complete the following checklist. Aligning now will avoid any hiccups later. Ensure you have:

  • Clear purpose
  • Specific relevance
  • Measurable outcome
  • Valid survey questions
  • Executive input
  • Well-informed stakeholders.

Clear purpose

Be clear about the purpose of your manager effectiveness survey. The team making the inquiries should have a shared understanding of their objectives, and those objectives should be clearly communicated to everyone taking part.

Frame communications within the context of company objectives. The purpose could be to fill capability gaps, to invest wisely in the development of key talent segments, to reduce turnover costs or to grow future leaders.

Specific relevance

Research should measure things that are specifically relevant to the organization. To hone the focus survey designers should get input from upper managers and their direct reports.

Measurable outcome

Manager effectiveness surveys must target a specific metric. Whatever it is, it should facilitate the analysis of which behaviors best drive manager effectiveness within the organization.

Effective management inspires, motivates and supports people to do their best work. To achieve this, managers need to connect with their employees, while remaining dedicated to business results.

Structure management effectiveness surveys to reveal insights about these practical factors. That way, the findings can help organize training, coaching and development efforts to effect genuine improvements.

Validated survey questions

Start with a core set of survey questions that are backed by quality research.

Every organization could go it alone, but it can be costly. There is often no benefit to spending those resources nor losing time to trial and error. Instead, make the most of pre-existing expertise.

Plenty of open-source research is available—such as Google’s Project Oxygen. Much of it is widely transferable. These resources could be the basis for many different personnel leadership evaluations. Of course, it’s not a simple copy-and-paste process, but rather a case of identifying the parts that can be transferred from one situation to another.

For expert help, there are companies that specialize in this kind of business research. They often deal in survey templates that have been professionally developed and statistically validated. Quality research partners have reliable survey techniques and wordings that are already proven valid. For example, people analytics platform Culture Amp melds research like Project Oxygen with practical learning from customers. This leads to robust survey instruments with broad appeal.

Executive input

Include executive teams in the final review of survey content. This ensures that items and wordings align with the values of the organization and their ideals for manager effectiveness.

Also, getting the executive team involved prior to launch promotes buy-in. That can lead to better support for initiatives that may emerge from the process.

Well-informed stakeholders

Everybody should know the purpose of a survey before it goes live. To make this happen, communicate the purpose via multiple channels.

Inform managers of what the surveys will measure. Everyone should be told how results will be used, how they won’t be used, and how and when results will be shared. The team responsible for the survey should support everyone along the way.

Step 2. Optimize conditions for feedback and learning

When seeking feedback, there are things that can be done to encourage people to be more honest and open. Let people know how the organization values the survey, and make sure people feel safe to contribute. To achieve this:

  • Focus on development over evaluation
  • Protect confidentiality.

Focus on development over evaluation

It may seem sensible at first, but linking upward feedback to performance reviews is ultimately unproductive and potentially destructive. Doing so may lead people to:

  • feel pressured by managers to give better ratings
  • rate managers poorly in retaliation for management decisions
  • withhold useful negative feedback for well-liked managers.

So, clearly distinguish between effectiveness assessments and performance reviews. If the organization holds annual performance reviews, launch manager effectiveness surveys at a completely different time of year.

Clear separation of development and remuneration processes encourages team members to give honest and empathetic feedback. It also encourages managers to view the feedback as constructive, and use it to better themselves.

Protect confidentiality

Some managers have the authority to hire and fire their teams, as well as compensate, reward, recognize and delegate. Even in the most progressive and transparent organizations, there is often a power difference between managers and their direct reports.

Surveys that don’t guarantee anonymity may make respondents worried about whether their feedback could come back to bite them. Worried staff are less likely to give honest feedback. They may say things they think will be viewed favorably by their manager, or they could refrain from providing feedback at all. It makes the whole process redundant.

Step 3. Analyze and understand upward feedback

To act with confidence, it’s important to properly analyze and fully understand the data you’ve collected. Four little tricks can make this easier:

  • Shorten the feedback loop
  • Compare to benchmarks
  • Delve deep for insights
  • Segment development opportunities

Shorten the feedback loop

A good results-reporting platform quickly and efficiently communicates feedback to managers. It makes it easy to access key insights and identify strengths and opportunities.

While in-depth analysis may be someone else’s task, managers should have direct access to the data. This allows for swift and efficient reactions and may reduce the need for more costly solutions later.

Compare to internal benchmarks

Initial surveys establish a baseline and are used to formulate actions. Repeated surveys can then identify changes in manager capabilities and reveal trends over time. One manager’s results can be compared with the general population to provide context.

Use this method to measure the impact of efforts and investment. Improvements may be used as evidence of the effectiveness of implemented programs. Downward trends can be investigated to identify what may have caused them and what action can be taken to improve.

Compare to external benchmarks

Compare in-house results to those from managers at other organizations. Identify relative strengths as well as opportunities to improve. Where managers outperform or underperform managers from similar organizations, it can guide learning and development priorities.

Only make comparisons to similar organizations. Similarity may be defined according to size, industry or a combination of factors. Sometimes, organizational circumstances lead to predictable variations from industry benchmarks. When this happens, ensure that anyone who has access to the results and benchmarks is aware of this.

Delve deep for insights

Basic averages or high/low scores are important indicators, but much more can be gained. The depth of data in quality surveys allows for much more insight.

A quality report will pinpoint the specific management practices that drive effective outcomes within the organization.

Segment development opportunities

One-size-fits-all approaches to training rarely work. Why? Every team has specific development needs. The trick is to discover the specifics.

With a robust results reporting platform, analysts can slice the data by different demographics. This can reveal specific capability gaps that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Step 4. Share results and take action

Use data to formulate solutions and organize priorities. Invest in programs that will have the biggest impact.

Once a strong understanding of the survey results is achieved, communicate the findings to everyone involved. Research reveals a simple communications method is best:

  • Cascade results
  • Tell the story
  • Enable action
  • Invite broader conversations

This encourages a sense of collective ownership over the improvement process and makes it easier to drive meaningful action.

Cascade results

Tailor survey reports to the needs and priorities of the audience.

Managers should get information that relates specifically to their team. For example, senior leaders want reports that identify priority development areas for the middle-managers that report to them.

The intelligence derived from tailored reports gives managers a platform for self-development through reflection and self-awareness.

Tell the story

Connect upward feedback to broader business goals, aspirations and challenges.

Deliver high-level results with the executive team. Highlight talent and capability gaps. Show the value of proposed training and development efforts. Explain projected returns on investment and how proposed initiatives are expected to impact on strategic objectives.

Compare results with historical benchmarks to communicate progress of training and development efforts over time.

Enable Action

Ideally, managers take ownership of their own development with support from group initiatives.

Learning and development opportunities should be tailored to address focus areas revealed by research findings. Inspire managers with evidence of tried-and-tested effective actions so that they can move quickly from insights to meaningful change.

Invite broader conversations

Managers who discuss feedback openly with their team are more likely to improve over time.

Support managers to be transparent with their teams. Give them a high-level summary of results that they can use as a basis to invite more detailed feedback and proposed solutions without any fear of recrimination.


Manager capabilities and behaviors have a big impact on an organization’s ability to succeed.

To be at their best, managers need support and continual development in their role. While some skills are requisites for all leaders, other traits are unique to specific situations. That’s why organizations need to research what works best for them. Manager effectiveness surveys are a great way to discover how to improve the effectiveness of people leaders.

To get the best results, clearly communicate the value of the process to everyone involved. The goals of the process should be guided by executive input and understood by all.

Draw from validated resources and benchmarked templates for results you can trust. Make sure people feel safe taking part in the survey. Encourage candid feedback by guaranteeing confidentiality. Don’t link upward feedback to performance and compensation reviews.

Once data is gathered, it needs to be understood. Compare findings with benchmarks and delve deep for insights to identify development opportunities.

Finally, share results and take action. Give people the information that’s most relevant to them and connect findings and recommendations to the organizational narrative. Get managers and their teams involved in the conversation.

A strong manager effectiveness assessment program can make good managers great, but it needs ongoing commitment. Collect data, analyze and understand results, implement action and then reassess. That’s the cycle that powers continual improvement.

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