Upward Feedback: What Is It & Examples

Asking for feedback from your team or boss is hard. You open yourself up to criticism and put yourself in a vulnerable position in the workplace. However, it’s arguably even more difficult to provide authentic upward feedback to your superiors.

After all, these are the people who are in charge of your promotions and raises. It’s natural for employees to want to stay on their boss’ good side by laying low. This isn’t what most managers desire, however. Giving upward feedback makes the manager’s job easier – it helps them prioritize by allowing them to know what is most important to you (and by extension what should be most important to the company), it gives them visibility into problems they may not be seeing, and it allows them to identify rising leaders in the organization.

Of course, feedback should always go both ways – from the most junior levels to the most senior. As a result, organizations need to be thoughtful in the way they structure relationships and environments in the workplace to foster upward feedback.

Companies can’t rely on employees voluntarily providing upward feedback when they have so much to lose. However, if your organization does not currently foster an environment that’s used to giving feedback, you can still find ways to hone these skills and become an even more valuable member of the team.

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Why Is Upward Feedback Important?

Upward feedback is important through two perspectives: the organizational level and the employee level.

On the organizational level, companies need to continue to develop strong leaders who can push the firm forward. However, if top level managers only are given feedback by their supervisors, they are missing a big piece of visibility into the business!

Managers are often blind to the impacts they make on their employees. A small comment by a manager in a team meeting may seem like a negligible point of constructive criticism but could be an absolutely embarrassing moment for an employee. Without upward feedback, a manager could continue behavior that destroys the morale within a team.

On the employee level, individuals who can effectively provide honest and meaningful upward feedback are valuable. The ability to give upward feedback is a great indicator of a potential leader who is able to effectively suggest improvements and unafraid to go to the mattresses for a particular course of action. Upward feedback shows that you are committed to the continued growth of the company.

Of course, there is a good and a bad way to give upward feedback, and this is a skill that can be honed with the right training.

Upward Feedback – The Right Ways to Do It

Here are some of our best practices and examples on how to give upward feedback the right way.

Consider the Relationship First

If you are new to the workplace, don’t start giving upward feedback guns blazing. As a junior employee, you likely have much more to learn at the start of the relationship anyhow. As you gain more experience and build trust with your boss, then you can start providing some valuable upward feedback.

Our recommendation? Write your boss an update email every day of your first 90 days of the job. It will quickly build trust. Even if you don’t send the email, writing it will help you refocus on what the boss cares about.

Timing and Environment are Key

Even with the best relationships, unsolicited upward feedback is not always necessary. Many times, it’s best to wait until your manager asks for feedback, or until you set up a specific meeting with 2-way feedback as the agenda.

When you’re trying to change the status quo or provide important upward feedback that you know will vastly improve the work environment, it’s generally best to ask at the beginning of a new task or project. You can ask something like, “Can we set up specific feedback sessions at each project checkpoint?”

You also want to choose the right environment. You don’t ever want to be providing upward feedback in front of a client or other team members . Instead, one-to-one meetings in a closed setting is usually best. Of course, there are exceptions, like if your boss is asking the entire team for feedback.

Be Specific

Upward feedback isn’t just “grading” your boss. More important, it’s making sure your perspective is heard on things your boss is making decisions on that matter to you. Be prepared to be challenged in your perspective; use the Pyramid Principle to structure your upward feedback in a logical way.

Concluding Thoughts

Upward feedback is a tricky subject – both for senior and junior members of an organization. Defining upward feedback and training employees on both sides to see the value is extremely valuable and is an indicator of the vitality of leadership. Whether you are an employee or a manager, we highly recommend encouraging upward feedback in your environment!

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Filed Under: Consulting skills, Corporate Training