What Is Upward Feedback? (Sample Questions & Template Included)
Asking your colleagues for feedback is hard enough. It's enough to leave an employee jittery because feedback translates to constructive criticisms and putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
Now, imagine giving your boss feedback about their performance.
Giving authentic upward feedback to your managers or superiors is even more tricky.
After all, these are the people responsible for employee promotions and raises. As a result, it's natural for employees to lay low to avoid any altercations with their superiors.
Irrespective of an employee's reluctance, upward feedback is necessary for modern, people-centric organizations. Especially if you want to gain insights into your managers' leadership styles, identify their weaknesses, structure relationships, foster a feedback culture in your organization, and boost a team's level of trust.
In this article, we will examine what upward feedback is and the best practices for an upward feedback system your company can replicate.
⬆️ What is upward feedback?
Upward feedback is a performance appraisal method that allows direct reports to give feedback to their managers.
You've probably heard the phrase, "People don't quit their jobs. They quit their bosses."
Sounds cliché? Maybe!
However, there's some truth to this quote. A DDI Frontline Leader report showed that people leave managers, not companies:
- 57% of employees left their jobs because of their managers.
- 14% of employees have left multiple companies because of their managers.
- 32% have seriously considered resigning because of their managers.
These employee feedback statistics show one recurring trend: Managers play a critical role in a company's success or failure. Their actions could make or break a business since they are involved in hiring, training, mentoring, developing, motivating, and engaging their employees.
Upward feedback allows companies to:
- Identify troubling issues high-level managers might not see with sufficient clarity.
- Prioritize better by understanding employees' grievances and what is most important to people.
- Recognize potential leaders within the organization.
🔄 How does upward feedback work?
You can conduct upward feedback via an online employee feedback survey. You can include open-ended questions and rated items.
As a People Ops executive, you will determine who to evaluate. You will also conduct a debriefing of the report for them.
Tip #1: It's up to you and your company to set the recurrence of the survey. Still, target at least a yearly review.
Tip #2: Deploy the upward feedback mechanism as a developmental tool rather than a tool for measuring employee performance.
Tip #3: Use the feedback from direct reports as a first step and follow up constructively.
Tip #4: Define action items and follow up regularly to help your managers improve.
❗️ Why is upward feedback important?
Upward feedback is vital from both the employee's and the employer's points of view.
From the organization's standpoint, companies need to develop leaders who can accelerate the company's growth and success.
However, if managers are only given feedback by their superiors, there would be no insight into blind spots they should be aware of.
It's like missing an essential piece of visibility into a business.
For example, managers might not fully grab the impact of their actions or words on their direct reports.
An insensitive comment or the body language displayed while relaying a piece of information might seem negligible on the manager's part but could be embarrassing or even traumatic for the employee.
Without upward feedback, that manager could continue exhibiting similar behaviors that finally destroy their team's morale.
From an employee perspective, having people who can provide effective, meaningful, and honest upward feedback is valuable.
The ability to provide honest upward feedback indicates a healthy company culture, with leaders that are forthcoming to the employee experience.
🏆 3 Essential benefits of upward feedback
1. Upward feedback produces better leaders
A Gallup study showed that managers who received feedback were 8.9% more profitable than their counterparts who didn't.
For managers looking to improve their leadership skills, being open to receiving feedback from their direct reports is essential.
Managers can ask for upward feedback during 1:1 meetings with their employees. After all, continuous feedback is the only way to improve constantly.
To encourage upward feedback among employees, you should ask employees the following questions regarding their managers:
- How better can your manager support you?
- Is your manager a micromanager?
- Do you think your manager provides enough feedback? If not, what type of feedback do you expect from them?
2. Improves leadership (and employee) engagement
Employees with bad managers are likelier to be less engaged than their counterparts with great bosses. Additionally, research shows that disengaged employees cost the U.S economy between $450 to $550 billion annually.
Upward feedback is a strategic avenue for collecting employee voices. It enables managers to know how to support and guide their employees; it's also a great medium for employees to appreciate and recognize their managers.
A study claimed that about 53% of senior leaders and 42% of senior managers want more recognition in their organizations.
3. Strengthens relationships
Work relationships greatly influence employee engagement, motivation, and retention:
- 75% of employees claimed that their immediate bosses were the most stressful part of their jobs.
- 56% of participants in a study report their leader is mildly (32%) or highly (24%) toxic. Plus, more employees working for highly toxic leaders show a high intent to leave compared to those working for nontoxic leaders (73% vs. 24%)
- Relationships with management are the top factor in employees' job satisfaction: employees with bad relationships with their managers feel lower job satisfaction.
- Employees are more likely to search for new jobs rather than stay loyal to their organizations if they don't trust their bosses.
Upward feedback can help build trust in the workplace, especially if managers are open to receiving feedback.
Employees should keep the following questions in mind:
- Does my manager communicate advancement opportunities for my career?
- How does my manager listen to my opinions on projects before making important decisions?
- How does my manager recognize me and my achievements to boost my morale and keep me engaged at work?
- Does my manager give me constructive feedback or enhance my career development?
💡 5 Best practices for your upward feedback system
Here are some of our best practices for giving upward feedback within an organization.
1. Consider the timing and environment
Unsolicited upward feedback can be ... tricky.
Here we don't mean critical issues preventing employees from achieving their goals or performing their tasks.
For starters, employees should wait until their managers ask for feedback. Alternatively, employees can give feedback during a specific meeting with two-way feedback on the agenda.
The environment is vital too.
For example, employees should never give upward feedback in the presence of other team members or with a client. Rather, one-on-one meetings in a private setting should be the norm. Although, there are some exceptions, in instances where the manager is asking the entire team for feedback.
2. Consider the workplace relationship
For a new employee, giving upward feedback is inconsequential. For example, a junior employee should focus on learning at the start of the workplace relationship with their bosses. Then, they can begin providing valuable upward feedback as they gain more experience and build trust with their managers.
Our recommendation? Suggest your new hires write their managers an update email every 30 days on their first 90 days on the job.
What has gone right?
Do they need more support?
Help your new hires and their leaders build trust quickly.
3. Be specific
Upward feedback isn't a "teacher-grades-their-students" scenario. Rather, it's an avenue to ensure that:
- your company has a clear framework to listen to employee voices, and
- your leaders act in the spirit of your leadership style and standards.
4. Ask for examples
When managers receive feedback from their employees, ensure that they ask them to give examples of behaviors or situations they have observed. More context to the input received is highly needed, making feedback more actionable.
For example, suppose a direct report gave upward feedback to their manager stating that "your communication style during client sessions is excellent." Some follow-up questions could be:
- What part of [manager's] communication style/method do you like the most?
- Did you easily follow [manager's] presentation during the sessions? Were there any times when [manager] lost you?
- What could [manager] have done better?
5. Create a culture of ownership
Building a culture of ownership in a company empowers its workforce.
Employees will feel they have a say in shaping the company culture and ensuring optimal work relationships:
- Taking responsibility for seeking better alternatives to getting jobs done and improving current practices.
- Not being afraid of mistakes. Employees should be willing to accept constructive criticisms and change for their team's and company's growth.
- Feeling empowered to make one's judgment about their work and that of their colleague.
💬 3 Upward Feedback Examples
Forbes lists eight behavioral goals used to assess managers:
- Being a good coach;
- Micromanaging and empowering team members;
- Showing genuine interest in employee success and well-being;
- Being productive and results-oriented;
- Communicating clearly and listening to the team;
- Assisting employees with career development support;
- Creating a clear vision and strategy for the team;
- Having vital technical skills to advise the team better.
Here are some examples of employee feedback for managers.
Asking for more guidance
As mentioned above, creating a feedback culture empowers employees to be able to ask their managers for more directions.
Let's take an example.
A new customer specialist needs more clarity about a project. Their manager, however, hates hand-holding.
The employee can give the following feedback, which shows proactiveness:
"I know you are busy, but I thought it would help if I had regular check-ins with you often. It will assure me that I am on the right track. Plus, it helps me better understand what you're looking for in final projects, learn what I need to know, and manage the project independently."
Asking to stop micromanaging
Micromanaging bosses makes their employees lose their self-esteem and confidence. Plus, their team members begin to feel that their manager does not trust their expertise, skills, or judgment.
A work culture characterized by micromanagement could impact team morale and productivity.
Here are some ways to address this issue through upward feedback:
"I appreciate your instructions and insights, but I think I could learn more and perform better if I could figure out the learning curve on my own."
"While I truly enjoy the feeling of completing my assigned tasks, I've begun spending more time on mundane tasks instead of focusing on my main projects. Could we schedule a weekly or monthly reporting schedule instead of a daily one?"
If managers frequently recognize their employees, their team should also consider returning the favor. Their bosses are human too — which is why employees need to give managers positive feedback and offer words of appreciation. Here's how employees can thank their managers for being supportive:
"Thank you for making it a priority to recognize my efforts. I spent a great deal of time crafting that proposal, and it meant a lot to me that you recognized my efforts in the presence of everyone."
❓ 15 Upward feedback survey questions you can use
Tip: Before kicking off your first 360-degree performance review, ensure you decide on a scale for your structured questions. The typical setting is a 5-point scale, but nothing stops you from exceeding the number.
The following are upward feedback survey questions you can use based on scales:
- The manager communicates clear goals for the team.
- The manager gives you actionable feedback regularly.
- The manager provides opportunities that allow me to develop my career.
- The manager consistently shows consideration for me as a person.
- The manager offers the autonomy I need to get my job done.
- The manager has had meaningful discussions with me about my career development in the past six months.
- The manager has the technical skills required to manage me effectively.
- The manager effectively collaborates with me and even across other departments.
- The manager regularly shares relevant information from their manager and upper leadership.
- The manager's actions show the value of the perspective I bring to the team, even when I have differing opinions.
Here are some questions managers can also use to get concrete feedback directly from their team:
- What are the top three things your manager could do to make your work easier and more fun?
- What's the most helpful thing you'd love your manager to do to help you complete your work?
- What's the least helpful thing your manager does?
- What's your favorite way to receive feedback and recognition for your work from your manager?
- What concerns do you have regarding giving feedback to your manager? What can the HR team and the manager themselves do to ease those concerns?
➡️ In need of more question ideas? Have a look at 44 sample 360 review questions to evaluate your managers.
👩💼 3 Tips for employees giving upward feedback
You can share these tips with all the employees in your organization in preparation for upward feedback cycles.
Limit suggestions to your own opinions
Do not assume that your feedback reflects everyone's thoughts within the organization, and be careful that your upward feedback doesn't suggest that. Never make your upward feedback personal. They should be limited to work-related issues.
Frame your feedback effectively
Effective upward feedback is a significant step toward improving how your manager relates with you in the workplace.
We recommend framing any feedback you have to focus on solutions with the "action-result-solution" framework.
Action → Result → Solution
For example, When you [action], it [causal action]. Moving forward, I would suggest [suggested action].
Here's an example to help you: "When you don't give me the autonomy to handle my tasks, it causes me to doubt my expertise and produce subpar work. So, moving forward, I would suggest letting me handle my tasks independently and figuring some tasks out on my own."
Keep it real
The essence of upward feedback isn't to make your boss feel bad but to provide examples of how their behaviors positively or negatively affect your performance/results. In this way, you contribute to positive changes in your team.
Upward feedback sessions aren't an opportunity to express any and every little thing that annoys you about your leaders.
Instead, try to remove emotions and keep all feedback strictly work-related.
💼 3 Tips for managers receiving upward feedback
You can share these tips with all the leaders in your organization in preparation for your upward feedback cycles.
Don't take it personally
We know it's not easy to be a leader and be responsible for the outcomes or performances of a group of people.
However, remember that, unlike you, your direct reports aren't versed in giving employee feedback and could give feedback as bluntly as it comes.
Therefore, don't take it personally.
Instead, identify areas where you are lacking and come up with strategies on how to improve.
Don't hold it against your employees
Don't hold the feedback against your employees.
Understand that they are sharing their thoughts, and you won't do yourself or your team any favors by holding their opinions over their heads.
It's okay not to agree with all feedback
It's okay to receive feedback that you disagree with.
After all, you are not obligated to act on them.
However, we recommend keeping an open mind and remaining honest about our actions or performance before dismissing someone's opinions.
Also, remember that just because you disagree with the feedback, it doesn't mean your team's performance isn't taking the fall for it.
If you receive similar feedback from multiple sources, it's time to take a step back and reassess the situation.
In simple terms, assess the upward feedback objectively!
➡️ Need more guidance and inspiration for giving constructive feedback? Check out our Comprehensive Guide to giving constructive feedback.
➡️ Establish a 360 feedback culture with Zavvy
Constructive upward feedback is essential for an organization's success. However, giving feedback to managers can be challenging, primarily when not handled properly.
Zavvy's 360 feedback software allows for anonymous feedback to establish effective workplace communication. It opens opportunities to increase a team's productivity and boost employee engagement.
Not only does Zavvy allow employees to share feedback easily, but it also automates feedback collection. Plus, with our reporting features, you can organize all feedback to address issues more quickly.
Leverage the insights for more meaningful 1:1s, monthly or quarterly reviews.