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Managing up: How to give effective manager feedback

7 min read
Listening and acting on feedback is critical to improving individual and team performance. And all of us should be giving feedback – about our managers and leaders too. Here’s how to do it effectively.


Traditionally, it was managers who gave feedback to employees. But with the realization that gathering and acting on everyone’s feedback improves employee experience, customer experience and brand equity, giving feedback about managers (upward feedback) is an important part of the process.

And in uncertain times – such as the 2020/21 Covid pandemic and beyond – managers must help their teams navigate economic challenges, furloughs, redundancies, organisational restructuring, home working, returning to work, future ways of working… and remain productive. They must offer employees clarity, direction and support, and to do this they need to understand how they can best support their teams. Thus, upward feedback is critical for organisations to survive and thrive in times of uncertainty and change.

What is manager feedback?

A manager has expectations of their team members, and it’s only fair that team members have expectations of their manager. Successful teams have open manager-employee communication that flows both ways: being able to give feedback about your manager helps reinforce the things that are going well and highlight those that are not, so they can be improved. And with frequent 360 feedback surveys, issues can be highlighted and addressed before they become big and intractable.

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Why is manager feedback so important?

‘Over reliance on the chain of command prevents leaders from hearing the unvarnished truth,’ says James Detert of the University of Virginia. When managers don’t know what their reports think of them, their unchecked behaviors and approach may be detrimental to the team, the projects and the business. And because every employee has their own, unique perspective on how their company operates, managers will benefit from these insights.

  • When things are going well: Giving your manager positive and constructive feedback (they probably rarely receive it) will encourage them to continue with a successful approach. You’ll also come across as honest and helpful, with a valued opinion that’s worth consulting again and again. Positive affirmation also builds up good relationships that form the basis of networking: your manager will remember you even if they move to another job, which can enhance your career prospects.
  • When things aren’t going so well: Managers can’t fix what they don’t know about, nor can they be everywhere at once. Pointing out what needs improving will highlight areas that could run more efficiently and productively. And sometimes there are managers who you just can’t get on with; a trackable feedback system will highlight honestly where the issues and conflicts are, which are the first steps to resolution.

Manager feedback and performance management

It’s important to remember that your manager is an employee of the company too: their performance is being measured, and they will want to improve that performance. It’s all part of their professional development. Employee engagement, wellbeing, job enablement and employee retention will all be KPIs on a front-line manager’s scorecard, so it’s crucial that they know about, and can solve, issues that may result in team members struggling or even leaving. As the saying goes, ‘people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their bosses’.

On promotion to a people management role, typically, the first line manager receives training in systems and processes, but less development on how to be a good people manager: e.g. how to communicate effectively with employees; how to take into account all perspectives; how to recognise good performance, and address underperformance. It’s even more important that managers are made aware of their strengths and areas that need development. Where a manager cares about their performance and is receptive to feedback, everybody benefits.

360 feedback for managers

With the advent of 360 surveys, employees are actively encouraged to give honest feedback on their managers, direct reports and themselves. A customizable ‘voice of the employee’ solution, which includes EXM 360, offers rich multi-rater feedback to paint a fuller picture of employees’ work. You’ll be able to understand how an individual gets their results, how others perceive them, and what behaviors drive success or hold back improvement. With configurable question sets, respondent workflows and reporting features, you can tailor your 360s to your organization’s needs. And as your business grows, the scalable 360 solution can grow with you.

Manager feedback best practices

Although the culture is changing, many people feel that giving manager feedback is tantamount to criticizing their boss. To get over this hesitancy, there are several things you can do to make manager feedback part of the normal cadence of communication:

  1. Acknowledge the discomfort by openly welcoming constructive feedback and expressing appreciation of advice, whether it’s about management style, skills or the job in general.
  2. Actively seek feedback by asking for it regularly from the team. With 360 feedback, it becomes part of the fabric of the job, and regular 1:1s with team members show management is listening and can help fill in any gaps.
  3. Connect 360 feedback with other ‘voice of the employee’ tools such as engagement surveys, etc. so that a line manager has an even more rounded view of how they are performing as a people leader.
  4. Allow for anonymous feedback from people who would find it difficult to share face to face. You could use suggestion boxes, or, more technologically, 360 feedback is naturally anonymous.
  5. Ask for examples of behaviors or situations that employees have observed and commented upon.
  6. Cultivate an ownership culture where everyone feels they have a stake in the business’s success: taking responsibility to improve things; feeling empowered to make their own decisions; not being afraid to make mistakes
  7. Receive feedback with good grace by understanding respondents’ motivations; not making it personal; and respecting differences
  8. Act on the feedback where it is valid and beneficial to the manager, the team and the company.

The more feedback managers receive, the better they will be able to support their teams, and enhance their own professional development. And this contributes to building a culture of feedback across your organisation.

Best Practices: 360° Feedback