Giving Upward Feedback: Benefits, Best Practices & Examples

Tanya Dutta
Published on 
May 17, 2023
Combining her psychology education with her research experience, Tanya has the powers to derive deep insights from data.
Discover the benefits of upward feedback for effective communication, improved leadership, and exchange feedback with confidence using our comprehensive guide.

Do you ever feel like you're working with Michael Scott from "The Office"?

Well, it must be difficult, but you're not alone. In fact, a survey from Gallup found that 75 percent of professionals who recently resigned from a job cited their manager as the primary reason for their exit.

But what if there was a way to contribute to your manager becoming a better leader?

Enter upward feedback —the system that lets you provide feedback to your boss with zero risks and much freedom.

By giving feedback constructively and professionally, you can help your boss improve their management skills and create a better work environment for everyone. And that’s not the end either—there’s a ton of stuff that upward feedback brings to the table.

So keeping that in mind, let’s journey through managerial development and explore the benefits of providing upward feedback.

What is upward feedback?

To reiterate, upward feedback is a powerful tool that lets you help your manager understand their strengths and shortcomings better, which, in turn, would help them become a better leader. It's a performance appraisal method that allows employees to provide feedback to their managers or supervisors, whether positive or negative

The feedback generally focuses on the manager's performance and how they can improve their leadership skills to create a better work environment for everyone. While it may initially seem intimidating to give reverse feedback like this, it can help improve your relationship with them and boost workplace morale and communication when done constructively and professionally.

Here’s an example of how Google does it

Google is known for its innovative approaches to employee feedback and development. In line with their famous slogan, "Don't be evil," the company uses upward feedback to improve the performance of their managers and create a better work environment for their employees.

To achieve this, Google's people operations team combines data analytics with management analysis to develop a manifesto called "Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers." These habits include being a good coach, taking a personal interest in employees, and being a good communicator and listener.

In addition to the manifesto, Google uses a quantitative survey to gather employee feedback. The survey includes 13 statements that range from strongly disagree to agree and cover the eight habits of effective managers firmly. For example, one statement is, "My manager allows me growth opportunities to help me develop in my career."

Google also asks their employees to answer two open-ended questions that provide more subjective feedback:

  1. What do you suggest your manager keep doing?
  2. What would you have your manager change?

Using this combination of quantitative and qualitative feedback, Google can gather a comprehensive view of their managers' performance and identify areas for improvement. This approach benefits the managers and creates a culture of continuous improvement and employee engagement, leading to a more productive and positive work environment.

Why do we need upward feedback?

The need for upward feedback comes from people often hesitating to speak up about their concerns or provide constructive feedback to their managers. This can be due to fear of retaliation, fear of damaging their professional relationships, or simply not knowing how to communicate their thoughts effectively.

However, without feedback from direct reports, managers may remain unaware of areas where they need to improve, which can lead to employee dissatisfaction and turnover.

Upward feedback provides a safe and structured way for employees to share their opinions and concerns with their managers, which in turn helps to foster a culture of open communication and trust within the organization.

Simply put, by providing a way for employees to share feedback to their managers safely and constructively, upward feedback helps create a more engaged and productive workplace for everyone.

Benefits of upward feedback 

By now, we’ve established that upward feedback is a superpower that allows you to develop a meaningful workplace relationship with your manager. But the benefits don't stop there. Here are some core reasons why upward feedback is a valuable tool for any organization:

1. Inspires managers to perform better

The best leaders strive to be good managers and create a positive work environment for their employees. However, even managers with the best intentions may have flaws they're unaware of. Upward feedback allows direct reports to share their experiences and provide constructive feedback to help their boss improve upon their leadership skills.

2. Cultivates stronger leadership

Performance reviews have the power to influence behavior. By involving direct reports in the review process, leaders are encouraged to look inward and consider if they're the type of boss they would want to work for. They are motivated to think beyond results and strive to lead with empathy and awareness, which creates a more positive work environment for everyone.

3. Boosts team morale

Unhappy employees may keep their grievances to themselves, leading to low morale and decreased productivity. Upward feedback provides a medium for employees to speak up freely and constructively, which can help improve workplace morale and create a more positive work experience for everyone.

4. Increases team performance

Employee satisfaction is a significant driver of productivity, and the relationship between employees and their managers plays a significant role in achieving this. Employees can help create a better work environment that promotes teamwork, collaboration, and growth by providing feedback to their supervisors.

5. Improves employee retention

Employees who feel heard and valued are likelier to stay with their organization. Upward feedback allows employees to share their thoughts and experiences with their managers, which can help create a more positive work environment and improve job satisfaction. As a result, organizations that encourage upward feedback may see higher employee retention rates.

How to encourage upward feedback

One of the best ways to encourage upward feedback is to make it a regular part of your management routine. Feedback should be an ongoing dialogue, not a one-time event. Build regular check-ins into your schedule so that you can regularly solicit and provide feedback.

Another way to encourage upward feedback is to be specific and actionable when giving feedback. Focus on providing specific suggestions to your employees regarding delivering upward feedback. This will help them feel like their input is valued and that they can make a difference in the workplace.

Finally, be open to receiving feedback yourself. Asking for and being open to receiving feedback from your employees shows that you value their input and are willing to learn from them. This sets an excellent example for them and makes them more likely to provide honest feedback.

How to give upward feedback: Tips and best practices

While being asked to deliver upward feedback, it’s but natural for employees to seek clarity about one thing—how do we provide upward feedback? Well, let’s start with some basic situations wherein employees can provide upward feedback:

1. After a project or assignment

After the completion of a project or assignment, take some time to reflect on the process. If you can think of any issues or areas that could be improved, provide your manager with specific feedback accordingly.

2. During 1:1 meetings

If your boss regularly schedules 1:1 meetings with you (if not, push them to do so), use this time to provide feedback on their performance. Be honest, specific, and constructive in your feedback.

3, During performance reviews

Performance reviews provide a structured opportunity for you to provide feedback to your boss. Take advantage of this time to provide specific examples of their strengths and areas for improvement.

These are the three situations that present the perfect opportunities for employees to provide feedback to their manager. However, if there’s a matter of high urgency, be sure to approach your manager immediately. Whichever way you take, keep the following best practices in mind to get the best results out of exchanging feedback with your manager:

1. Choose the right time and place

Timing is everything when it comes to providing feedback. Choose a time when your manager is not busy or preoccupied and when you have ample time for the conversation. Ensure the place is comfortable and conducive to an open and honest discussion.

2. Be clear and specific

When giving feedback, always be clear and specific about what you're trying to say. Vague comments will only confuse and frustrate your manager. Focus on providing specific examples and suggestions for improvement that your manager can act on.

3. Use "I" Statements

Instead of using "you" statements, use "I" statements when providing feedback. This makes the conversation less accusatory and more focused on your perspective.

4. Keep It Professional

It's essential to maintain a constructive and professional tone when giving feedback. Avoid personal attacks and stick to the facts. Criticizing your manager's personal qualities or work habits is unproductive and will only make them defensive.

5. Work towards solutions

Instead of just pointing out problems, work with your manager to identify potential solutions to the problems you raise. This shows you're invested in finding a resolution and not just complaining.

6. Don't forget to praise good work

Upward feedback should never only be about pointing out areas for improvement. It's also essential to acknowledge your manager's strengths and successes. Praising your manager for work well done can boost morale and encourage them to continue those positive behaviors.

7. Seek out multiple perspectives

To get a well-rounded view of an employee's performance, solicit feedback from various people, including your team members and customers or clients.

6 examples of upward feedback

To make things easier, here are some examples of upward feedback that employees can use as a starting point to develop their thoughts. Remember to keep feedback constructive, specific, and actionable, and to balance criticism with positive feedback. With that said, here are some examples:

  1. Positive reinforcement: "I appreciate your acknowledging my efforts and providing constructive feedback. It helps me understand where I stand and motivates me to improve."
  1. Specific feedback: "During our last meeting, you spoke over me when I presented my ideas. I felt like I wasn't being heard. In the future, could you please let me finish before commenting?"
  1. Personal development: "I'm really interested in developing my skills in [specific area]. Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve or recommend any resources that may help me?"
  1. Prioritization: "I feel like I have too much on my plate right now, and that’s affecting my ability to focus and deliver quality work. Can we discuss my priorities and see if we can reprioritize some of my tasks?"
  1. Communication style: "Sometimes I feel like you communicate important information too late, making it difficult to plan and prioritize my work. Can we agree on a communication timeline so we can work more effectively together?"
  1. Recognition: "I wanted to let you know that I appreciate the support and guidance you've given me over the past few weeks. Your guidance has been invaluable to me, and I feel like I'm learning a lot from you."

Empowering employees and building stronger leaders with upward feedback

As an employee, providing upward feedback to your manager can be a daunting task. 

However, it is also an opportunity to help your manager’s growth and development. When done correctly, upward feedback can lead to better manager performance, more decisive leadership, improved team morale, increased team performance, and a better work environment overall.

Now, you can approach upward feedback confidently and clearly by considering the best practices, the benefits we discussed, and the examples we provided. Remember to approach the conversation constructively, provide specific examples, and be open to a two-way dialogue.

Ultimately, upward feedback is a valuable tool for building a stronger relationship with your manager and creating a better workplace for yourself and your colleagues. So, take advantage of this opportunity and help your manager become the best than they can be.

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About the Author
Tanya Dutta
People Science Associate
With a BA and MA in psychology - she is an organizational behavior nerd through and through. She previously worked in consumer insights, where she refined the ability to derive insights from data. Combining her passion for psychology and data, she found a sweet intersection in the People Science team at Mesh, helping organizations optimize their talent strategies while keeping people at heart. Outside work, she enjoys ticking off items from her IMDB and Yelp wishlist.
About the Author
Tanya Dutta
People Science Associate
With a BA and MA in psychology - she is an organizational behavior nerd through and through. She previously worked in consumer insights, where she refined the ability to derive insights from data. Combining her passion for psychology and data, she found a sweet intersection in the People Science team at Mesh, helping organizations optimize their talent strategies while keeping people at heart. Outside work, she enjoys ticking off items from her IMDB and Yelp wishlist.

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