Upward Feedback

by Adarsh Raj Bhatt in

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TLDR

  • Since any and all input from subordinates bears tremendous importance, it is important for you as a founder and manager to receive upward feedback. Furthermore, soliciting upward feedback tends to boost team morale.
  • Establish confidence between you and your employees so that they can turn to you with any feedback, no matter how critical it is. Set the tone for open communication and a culture of ownership. Employees of a startup often feel a special bond with the company as they played a role in getting it off the ground.
  • As upward feedback occurs, it won't always be pleasant. It takes a skilled manager to effectively receive and react to such feedback.
  • When it comes to critical opinions, anonymous feedback is quite efficient. However, giving this kind of feedback in person can be challenging for some people, especially if their boss -- you, the founder -- isn't an experienced manager yet. Make sure your employees have the choice of freely sharing their opinions anonymously if needed.

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What is Upward Feedback?

Upward feedback allows employees to provide developmental feedback to their immediate superiors anonymously and confidentially. It helps you, as the "boss/founder" to guide your teams more effectively. 

As an employee, it can be difficult to ask for feedback from your colleagues or your boss. You expose yourself to criticism and put yourself in a position of vulnerability at work. Providing authentic upward feedback to the bosses, however, is arguably much more complicated.

As the founder, you are in charge of the raises and promotions, after all. It's normal for employees to want to stay on the good side of their bosses by keeping a low profile. However, most managers do not desire this. As a founder and manager, you are probably eager to learn how employees are adapting to working at your startup.

Giving upward feedback makes your job easier because it allows you to: 

  • Prioritize better by being aware of what is most important to your employees (and, by extension, what should be most important to the company) 
  • Focus your attention on issues that you might not be seeing with sufficient clarity
  • Recognize rising leaders within the organization

In fact, HBR has a whole piece that talks about “how to give your boss feedback”.

Of course, feedback should always be provided in both directions, from the most junior to the most senior levels. As a result, startups must think carefully about how they structure relationships and conditions in the workplace to encourage upward feedback. 

When employees have too much to lose, companies can't rely on them to willingly provide honest upward feedback.

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How Does Upward Feedback Work?

Upward feedback uses an online survey that takes about ten minutes to complete and includes rated items and open-ended questions. Every two years, all supervisors and managers who oversee at least three employees are required to be evaluated; the process includes both a self-evaluation of the employee being assessed and an evaluation by direct reports. 

There is a role for all managers, supervisors, and direct reports. As the founder, you will determine the supervisor who will be evaluated and will perform a debriefing of the feedback report for them. The supervisor conducts a self-evaluation, determines relevant planning tasks with the manager, and communicates the results to the direct reports. The supervisor's employees fill out the online surveys and provide candid feedback that the supervisor could use to improve.

The upward feedback mechanism is intended to be used as a developmental tool rather than as a tool for evaluating performances. You as the boss, on the other hand, are supposed to take the appropriate steps to improve on the required competencies once developmental needs have been recognized.

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Pros of Upward Feedback

#1: Enlightening for the manager

As a founder, you definitely possess leadership skills. Upward feedback is a great way to assess and hone them.

Your management style has an impact on your direct reports' work experiences. Sometimes the best-intentioned administrators, however, have weaknesses that they aren't fully aware of. And it’s the people who work with them every day who can help them understand where they can improve as a leader. The same can apply to you.

#2: Encourages effective leadership

The ability to influence actions is one of the most underappreciated advantages of any sort of performance review. 

When people are aware of the factors that they'll be evaluated on, they bear them in mind as they go about their work every day. And when direct reports are involved in the assessment process, it enables managers to reflect upon themselves and decide whether they are shaping up to be the kind of boss that they themselves would like to work under. Would you like to work for yourself in a manager-employee situation?

As a result, they will aspire you to lead with empathy and understanding, rather than with just outcomes.

#3: Improves team morale 

Most unhappy employees keep their complaints to themselves until they plan to move on to the next opportunity. They believe that discussing their opinions about their boss would do more harm than good.

Giving your employees a platform to express themselves — in a positive and constructive way — is a great way to boost morale. It demonstrates that you care about them having a good, meaningful time working for your startup.

#4: Enhances team performance

Productivity is heavily influenced by employee satisfaction. And an employee's attitude toward their work is heavily influenced by their relationship with their boss. 

Employees who are deeply engaged generally go the extra mile because they know that their efforts will be recognized and rewarded - first and foremost by their boss. Oftentimes, startups can't afford to pay substantial salaries, so creating a pleasant workplace that offers non-monetary rewards is crucial for employee retention.

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Cons of Upward Feedback

#1: Employees' Resistance

Employees are afraid of being overlooked, so they seldom initiate upward feedback. 

Since such correspondence is often not properly acknowledged, employees are either unable or unwilling to initiate upward feedback again. Explain to your employees that their feedback -- negative and positive -- is welcome.

#2: Indifferent Supervisors

Employees lose faith in their superiors if their superiors do not make decisions based on upward feedback. That is why it is important that you act on your employees' feedback, otherwise, it undermines confidence in the process -- and you.

#3: Unheard Messages

Messages often do not move upwards, instead rest with an inactive or indifferent superior. Some managers are poor listeners, while others merely "hear" messages without acting on them. If your startup is large enough to have middle managers, then it is your job to make sure that your employees' feedback is acted upon.

#4: Reluctance to Admit Failure

Many employees in lower levels of management are uncertain about their jobs and their prospects for the future. As a result, they are hesitant to discuss their workplace issues with their bosses, something which is also understood as a reluctance to admit failure. It is your job to make certain that your employees feel safe sharing negative feedback and vulnerabilities without fear of retaliation.

Upward Feedback Examples

Managers, just like employees, want to be acknowledged. 

This includes senior executives (such as founders, vice presidents and directors) as well as senior managers -- they all want more (positive) visibility at work. Employees must provide constructive feedback and words of appreciation to their supervisors. If an employee wants to publicly thank their boss for their encouragement and recognition of their efforts, they could say something along the lines of:

“I appreciate you making it a point to highlight my work. I put a lot of work into that presentation, and it meant a great deal to me that you acknowledged my contributions in front of everyone during the session.”

For more examples of upward feedback, check out:

Upward Feedback Surveys

Employee feedback surveys are designed to help you understand how your employees feel about your startup's procedures, ethics, and purpose, so you can increase your business productivity. Consider it as consumer research. Only, instead, it's aimed at your internal customers ( i.e., your employees).

Employees rely on you just as much as you rely on them. And having satisfied employees will lead to happier customers, and thus, a happy business.

Let’s have a look at some surveys.

Upward Feedback Performance Appraisal

When compared to conventional performance appraisals, upward feedback is more likely to be embraced and seen as fair by leaders and as a result, is more likely to contribute to concrete development action. This information is extremely valuable for startups that are still establishing standard operating procedures.

The majority of the time, leaders do not receive truly actionable inputs from their direct reports. This is particularly true as one advances into the higher levels of their career. Countless executives report that as they move up the ladder, they receive less and less input from others. As a founder, this type of input can only help you to flourish and improve as a manager and leader.

By incorporating a well-structured upward feedback mechanism into employee performance appraisals, companies could help bridge or close this feedback gap.

360-Degree Feedback

A 360-degree feedback process involves gathering feedback from an employee's subordinates, coworkers, and managers, as well as a self-evaluation by the employee. Where necessary, feedback from external stakeholders that interact with the employee, such as consumers and vendors, or other relevant groups, might also be used. 

360-degree feedback gets its name from the fact that it gathers feedback on an employee's actions from a number of sources positioned around the employee. As a result, it can be contrasted with "downward feedback" or "upward feedback" with the latter provided solely by subordinates to supervisory or management employees.

360-degree feedback is most widely used for developmental purposes, with employees receiving it to assist in the improvement of job skills and behavior. Organizations, on the other hand, are constantly using 360-degree feedback in performance reviews and specific HR decisions (e.g., wage hikes, promotions, etc.). 

When 360-degree feedback is used to evaluate results, it is often referred to as a "360-degree review".  No matter what size your startup is, you should be able to manage to put together 360-degree feedback loops for your employees -- and yourself.

How to Deal with Negative Upward Feedback

It's not always easy to properly process and act on negative feedback. It can make us defensive, irritable, and self-conscious, reducing our overall effectiveness. Furthermore, we cannot accept all feedback at face value. No one likes to receive criticism, but if you are to strengthen your management and leadership skills, you must learn to face it.

Although constructive feedback is often offered objectively and with the best of intentions, it might also be misleading and/or malicious: a coworker who wants to throw us off our game; a manager who has totally unrealistic expectations; an employee who is afraid to speak truth to someone in power. 

As a result, it's difficult to tell what's true and what should be ignored. That is why it is important to create a culture of trust and open, honest communication within your startup from day one.

Don't take it personally

It's important to note that you are not your work, no matter how invested you might be in it. And that is very hard to do for a founder of a startup. It's your "baby" after all. It's tempting to interpret negative performance feedback as a personal assault, but it's better to acknowledge your feelings and then set them aside. 

Recognize that you are angry or irritated as a result of the negative feedback you received at work; however, remove reactive emotion from the equation and try not to respond defensively. It is your behavior that is being critiqued, not you as a person.

Consider the motivations of your colleague

While the majority of workplace criticism is positive and legitimate, there is a chance that the feedback is motivated by someone's ego rather than a sincere desire to help you better your job. Consider what the coworker's or employee's motives are. 

Take a deep breath and let go if your gut tells you that the remarks are unjustly harsh or unconstructive, or that they don’t come from an earnest and well-intentioned place.

Recognize that there is room for improvement

Be conscious of cultivating your positive attitude and receptivity to criticism at work. Demonstrate that you can take negative feedback well -- and thank the individual for their input. Recognize your past errors and set a goal for yourself to do better next time. 

Here’s the deal:

You have the ability to avoid negative reviews at work if you can figure out what caused them. Consider why you got the negative feedback and, if it's legitimate and well-intentioned, what you need to do to fix it.

Enhance your emotional awareness

When coping with negative feedback at work, use your emotional intelligence and note that purely defensive responses, no matter how hurtful the criticism might be, will not help you in the least. 

Maintaining a level head will show that you value people’s input and are willing to use it to help you move forward. As the company founder and owner, it is up to you to set a good example for the rest of the team.

Upward Feedback for the Manager

Look:

It is not entirely natural to offer upward feedback. Individuals who lack the ability to speak their minds or are concerned about the repercussions of providing constructive feedback that might not be well-received could find it intimidating and threatening. 

The solution is to develop psychological protection at all levels of the organization, including within teams and between managers and their direct reports. People won't start expressing their views freely until they feel secure in a professional atmosphere.

As a founder and manager, you should use employee reviews to enhance your performance and listen to your employees. We also tend to think of feedback as a one-way path, with managers giving their direct reports feedback. It's important to note that feedback is most effective when it's a two-way street — and having employees provide feedback for you is just as important and useful as the converse. 

This is particularly important considering that only 29 percent of employees believe that their leader's future vision is synchronized with the organization's, and 16 percent believe their leader's vision is never or rarely aligned. You can do better than that. Beat those odds!

We can help!

At AbstractOps, we help early-stage founders streamline and automate regulatory and legal ops, HR, and finance so you can focus on what matters most — your business. If you're looking for help with upward feedback, we can help you with it. Sign up to get started.

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Citations

  1. Tips for Providing Upward Feedback
  2. Examples & Questions for an Upward Performance Appraisal
  3. How to Give Manager Feedback: 5 Examples
  4. What is 360 degree feedback?