Giving feedback to your supervisor or manager can be immensely nerve-wracking (also known as giving "upward feedback"). You want to provide them with feedback so they can improve, but the power dynamics in your workplace might make an already delicate activity appear fraught with danger.
However, a feedback culture can only be formed if leaders at all levels of the organization adopt the practice of strategically seeking feedback. This communicates trust and loyalty and encourages a feedback cycle that flows up (rather than trickling down).
Upward feedback allows employees to anonymously and confidentially submit developmental input to their immediate supervisors. As the "boss/founder" it enables you to lead your teams better. It can be challenging to ask for feedback from coworkers or your employer as an employee. Upward Feedback can be a key to establishing trust bonds at the workplace.
Although receiving feedback can be intimidating for some people, it is critical if you want to build motivated and high-performing teams. According to a survey conducted by Officevibe, 4 out of 10 employees are actively disengaged when they receive little or no feedback.
The study also emphasized the need to provide regular feedback to employees. Only 18% of employees with low engagement receive feedback at least once a week, compared to 43% of highly engaged employees.
A feedback-rich culture, where employees feel comfortable seeking and receiving feedback from their coworkers and management, can drastically alter how a company functions.
Let’s dive further into Harvard’s reviews along the same lines.
Table of Content
- Why Employees are hesitant to speak (Harvard Research Study)
- How does feedback affect the workplace dynamics?
- Why is feedback crucial in a workplace?
- How to provide feedback to a superior without damaging your rapport at work?
- Key Takeaways
Why Employees are hesitant to speak (Harvard Research Study)
As humans, we often find ourselves reading into people's behavior. Common in places where we work closely or in teams. Interactions and collaborations with people at work can help you with insights into the job and their expertise. Such observations often go in vain because workplaces take hierarchy very seriously and usually follow a downward approach. So, these insights, which are rather constructive in your head, can come out all wrong and worsen things for you at work. However, being thoughtful and wise with your words can prove you an asset in bettering your work relationship with your superiors.
What was the research subject?
The research subject on communication was a leading high-technology corporation.
How was the research conducted?
By interviewing nearly 200 people from all levels and functions of the organization, we determined the characteristics that cause employees to submit ideas to their bosses—or not—systematically.
Why did they choose the said subject?
Even though the company has several official processes in place, such as an ombudsperson and grievance procedures, half of the employees who responded to a recent culture study said they didn't feel "safe to speak up" or challenge old methods of doing things. They were most hesitant to discuss difficulties rather than innovative solutions for bettering products, procedures, or performance.
What does the study suggest?
The research reveals that this form of self-censorship is widespread, from the lowest levels of management to the top.
The reason is self-preservation. While it's understandable why employees are afraid to bring up specific issues, such as whistle-blowing, we discovered that the underlying protective impulse was so strong that it also suppressed communication intended to benefit the firm. Employees in our interviews described the perceived risks of speaking up as extraordinarily personal and immediate, whereas the potential future benefit to the company from sharing their ideas was unknown. As a result, many people intuitively chose to play it safe by remaining silent. "When in doubt, keep your lips shut," they seemed to conclude frequently.
What were the observations during the study?
Employees occasionally told us they were afraid to speak out because management had been hostile to previous proposals, but this was uncommon. More often than not, they were stifled by broad, often nebulous workplace ideas. A culture of communal mythologies was unsettling, with reports of someone saying something in public and then being "suddenly gone from the organization," as one R&D director put it.
Assumed, seemingly unproven assumptions also caused silence. Many participants said they withheld comments from a superior because they believed (without evidence) that the superior felt ownership of the project, method, or issue in question and would detest recommendations that signaled a need for change. Employees also believed (again, without direct experience) that their superiors would feel misled if positive proposals for change were provided when more senior leaders were present. In addition, their bosses would be ashamed to be called out in front of other subordinates by a subordinate.
What did the findings infer?
Our findings reveal that promoting free expression isn't only a matter of removing visible impediments like a volatile boss or the fear of a summary dismissal (though that would help). It's also not a case of formal processes like hotlines and suggestion boxes. Making employees feel comfortable enough to contribute necessitates a significant culture shift in how they perceive the risks (personal and immediate) versus the potential advantages (organizational and long-term) of speaking up.
To cut expenses, leaders must invite and honor the contributions of others' ideas (this does not mean they must consistently implement them). Executives must also actively confront the misconceptions and preconceptions that contribute to the perpetuation of silence. They may, for example, state publicly that, contrary to popular opinion, proposals should not be made quietly to save the boss's face—that ideas are most valuable when they're discussed openly and others can contribute to their development.
Employees might also contribute more if they could offset the untested, intangible costs they've been assuming with rewards beyond personal recognition for speaking up—that is, something tangible. Managers should adapt their reward schemes so that employees share more directly in the cost savings or revenue streams that their voluntary ideas help develop.
How does feedback affect the workplace dynamics?
The Toyota Production System was innovative because it focused on identifying and fixing problems early in the process before they become finished goods. Employee feedback works similarly; it allows you to collect information, make better decisions about managing your staff and running your firm, and address possible problems early on.
Instead of waiting for customers to complain about automobiles or for employees to leave because you don't address their concerns, you should learn about the problems and respond as soon as possible.
According to a McKinsey analysis, well-connected teams have a 20-25 percent improvement in production.
According to CMSWire, 97 percent of employees believe that communication impacts their task efficacy on a daily basis.
According to a report by Think Talent, employees working in firms with successful communication plans — ones that manage to limit the silo effect and centralize communication — are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.
More than 75% of those polled felt that feedback is important. About 45 percent of respondents value input from their peers, clients, or customers, but only about a third say they get it.
There are various reasons why employees may not be receiving the feedback they require. Perhaps we're coddling the next generation of workers. Maybe we're afraid of confrontation; maybe we're just too busy.
Unfortunately, while these justifications may be valid, they are not acceptable. Feedback is beneficial, actively, and vocally requested and has a huge impact on the workplace. In fact, the most successful businesses have a feedback loop in place.
Expert's Point of View on giving your boss feedback:
The Assistant Professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management authored a few Harvard Business Review articles: "Why Employees Are Afraid to Speak" and "Speaking Up to Higher-Ups: How Supervisors and Skip-Level Leaders Influence Employee Voice." He clearly expresses that leaders who rely too heavily on the chain of command miss hearing the whole truth.
Leadership is all about discernment; if leaders don't understand how they're regarded, they'll perform poorly. However, the further up a leader is in a company, the more difficult it is to acquire honest feedback, says John Baldoni, a coach, leadership consultant, and author of the book "Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up."
Let's take a look at the case studies by the Harvard review.
Wendy Wise is an employee of a small but rapidly expanding consulting firm, Strategic Pricing Group. It was a fast-paced culture with high expectations and frequently strained workers. People were promoted swiftly and expected to be able to do a job immediately away because of the rapid expansion. Wendy was assigned to a team by Simon, a newly promoted manager. He did an excellent job, but he lacked formal management experience or training. Wendy anticipated Simon being put into situations requiring him to manage clients and teams of consultants effectively.
She had more knowledge in these areas because of her time with the company, and she knew it would make her job simpler if Simon got the aid he needed. "I asked myself, 'How can I help him without threatening him?" Wendy explained. She decided to begin by sitting down with him and describing the projects she had been working on and asking him to keep an eye out for them and provide feedback. "Your supervisor doesn't see what you do every day, but I do," she added. I know you do a lot of presenting, for example, and I'd be pleased to provide feedback."
Simon was relieved that he didn't have to seem infallible and that he could get honest feedback from Wendy. As their professional relationship grew, they added to the list of things they wanted the other to keep an eye on. "I think we helped each other be successful in the organization," Wendy stated. Wendy and Simon subsequently went on to new employment when Strategic Pricing Group was sold, but they continue to reach out to each other for guidance and mentoring.
Sven Gierlinger, a former colleague, was hired as the Administrator of Hospitality Services shortly after Gerard van Grinsven became the CEO of Henry Ford Health Systems, a 300-bed hospital in Michigan with 1,300 workers. Sven and Gerard had previously worked together at the Ritz Carlton and shared a passion for providing exceptional service. Gerard relied on Sven to convey what he heard and saw throughout the company because of their previous working connection.
Gerard overhauled a department that needed to improve its performance a few years ago. There was some justifiable dissent in the department due to the adjustments. Gerard is a good communicator, especially intense situations.
He gathered the entire unit and requested that the complaining cease and that the personnel concentrate on making the new structure-function and improve their results. The staff, on the other hand, were dissatisfied with the conference. Gerard turned to Sven and asked for his impartial opinion on the situation: what would he have done if he had been in that position? Sven might have easily appeased Gerard by saying, "You did the right thing," but he had heard from numerous attendees that the meeting had not gone well. He was open and honest with Gerard, telling him what he had heard and what he would have done differently. "I offered him that feedback because he trusted me," Sven explained. Feedback can be misinterpreted if there is a lack of trust."
Gerard praised him for his honesty and went about healing the meeting's damage.
Gerard discussed the feedback he received at a leadership meeting shortly after and described to his team how he adjusted his conduct in response to it. This confirmed Sven's impression of Gerard as a leader who accepts and utilizes feedback.
Why is feedback crucial in a workplace?
It's critical to provide feedback to managers so that they can fix issues and capitalize on possibilities at work. This will result in a better company culture, which will benefit both managers and employees.
Staff will feel valued in their organization if they can express their thoughts and concerns. This sense of pride and belonging at work increases motivation and participation.
On the other hand, employees must provide constructive criticism that leads to beneficial transformation.
Let's take a look at a few terms that can be thought starters for making feedback a crucial part of any work environment:
360-degree feedback is a method in which you are evaluated not just by your supervisor but also by your peers, direct reports, and occasionally even consumers. You'll assess how you see yourself and how others see you.
The participant is shown the disparities between how they view themselves and how others see them using the 360 feedback method. This raises their self-awareness, which implies they are more aware of their personality, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and motives, among other things. They can alter their behavior and pinpoint their training requirements using this knowledge. As a result, the subject can become more effective in their current function and in the role they want to pursue.
This input improves the organization by boosting career development planning and implementation. This also strengthens the organization's commitment to employee development, which helps recruitment and retention.
Upward feedback is a sort of performance evaluation in which direct reports send feedback to their boss. This strategy is becoming more popular, with some of its most well-known brands adopting it.
Many leaders begin their management careers as extremely capable individuals. They were promoted to management without specific training or message on how to succeed at managing well. They were so efficient and effective at reaching their business metrics and rising through the hierarchy and competencies put forth for them.
How can organizations provide rising stars with the tools to lead well now that they're heading their teams? How can they be inspired to take a more active part in their professional development?
Whether you're aiming to recognize new or existing leaders or avert a management disaster, the best present a company can provide its leaders is the chance to engage their growth mentality with direct feedback from individuals who work with and for them - in the form of upward feedback.
Employee feedback loop
A feedback loop is a management tool that allows for continual improvement. Feedback loops help to eliminate challenges and frustrations inside an organization by fostering regular, two-way contact between management and employees.
Employee feedback loops play a critical role in today's enterprises. You might need their insights and the motivated workforce they develop, whether you have a small team or a worldwide workforce.
Employee feedback loops give your firm, people, and team the ability to be more agile.
You'll put your firm in a better position to spot problems before they happen or even before they start — and you'll be able to keep it running smoothly. Your staff will feel supported and empowered if your company is positioned to respond quickly with an effective problem-solving strategy.
How to provide feedback to a superior without damaging your rapport at work?
Developing a feedback culture is a low-cost undertaking that improves team development and overall productivity. When others follow your lead, a top-down technique of getting leaders to adopt the practice of asking for feedback yields exponential results. More effective leaders are developed as a result of this approach.
Your feedback can help your boss view herself through the eyes of others, allowing her to make important changes in her behavior and approach. Giving this form of feedback, on the other hand, necessitates careful consideration; here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
The partnership takes precedence
Like any form of feedback, the capacity to exchange upward feedback is based on your connection with your supervisor. It will be impossible to receive input without trust. Before you give feedback, you should determine whether or not your manager is receptive to your ideas. It's best not to say anything if you know your employer is unreceptive to input, is likely to respond poorly, or if you have a tense relationship.
"If your boss is objective and you have a solid connection," Baldoni says, "you owe him the honest talk." As with any form of feedback, your intentions must be good, and your desire to assist your supervisor should take precedence over whatever differences you may have.
Should you wait for an invitation or make a formal request?
Even if you have a fantastic relationship, giving unsolicited advice is not good. "General advice on being a better boss is difficult to give until you're asked for it," Detert says. Your manager should have asked for your opinion and clarified what kind of feedback she needs.
Your supervisor can reveal her areas of improvement and ask you to watch for certain behaviors she's working on. "In an ideal environment," Baldoni argues, "a manager's role is to make it safe to give feedback."
Baldoni acknowledges, however, that in the actual world, this may not always be the case. If your supervisor does not ask for input explicitly, you can inquire if she would want it. This is generally easiest to perform when working on a new project or with a new customer.
"Would it be good for me to provide you with comments at particular times in this project?" you might ask. "I'm likely to have a unique view on what we're doing; would you like some input on how the project is going?" or "I'm likely to have a unique perspective on what we're doing. Would you like some feedback on how the project is going?" These questions must, once again, be asked with the greatest of intentions. Because she has to offer you feedback, don't come across as though you want to provide it in a vindictive manner. Demonstrate your readiness to assist her in her development.
Concentrate on your viewpoint
When your employer is open to input, it's tempting to imagine everything you'd do if you were in his shoes.
On the other hand, your input should be focused on what you're seeing or hearing rather than what you'd do if you were the boss. "Frame comments in terms of your perceptions," Baldoni advises. He proposes mentioning something like, "I observed you came across as bullying at that meeting." By giving your viewpoint, you can assist your employer in understanding how others perceive him. This can be extremely beneficial to a boss estranged from their subordinates.
Focusing on your point of view also entails recognizing its limits. You must keep in mind that you are only viewing a portion of your boss's performance, and you may not understand or acknowledge his expectations.
"Subordinates, on the whole, don't have a comprehensive awareness of their supervisors' reality," Detert argues. Give commentary that reflects what you can see rather than assuming what he's going through. Remember that the rules of excellent feedback still apply. Your feedback should be sincere and based on facts. Open with positive remarks and follow up with constructive criticism and suggestions for development. Avoid making any accusations. "People respond to specifics far better than generalities," Detert explains. As a result, use details to back up your claims.
When your boss retaliates
Your supervisor may become irritated or defensive about your feedback, no matter how carefully or thoughtfully you prepared and gave it.
If you're asked for feedback, Baldoni advises the standing firm and explains that you did everything you requested. Reframing the feedback can sometimes be beneficial. Feedback is more easily accepted if you "frame it in terms of what your supervisor cares about," according to Detert. "You can point out concrete ways that specific behaviors prevent the boss from meeting his objectives," he says.
Determine how she likes to accept comments and what topics are off-limits by observing her reaction. Maybe she doesn't want to hear criticism of her communication approach or a high-pressure project.
Rather than shutting down in the face of a negative reaction, seize the chance to check in with her and see what she thinks would be valuable in the future.
When in doubt, skip talking
It's nearly always best not to speak out if you're not sure about your boss wanting to gain feedback at the time or if the subject of the input is sensitive. Unless you believe your boss's behavior is endangering the firm or your unit, there is no reason to jeopardize your working relationship or your career. Instead, search for ways to provide anonymous input, such as through a 360-degree feedback method.
Remember the following guidelines:
- Before speaking up, be sure your supervisor is open to input and receptive to it.
- Tell her about what you see and hear in her company or unit.
- Concentrate on how you can assist her rather than what you would do if you were in charge.
If your supervisor doesn't ask for feedback, assume she doesn't want it; instead, ask if she'd like to hear your thoughts.
- Assume you are aware of or understand your boss's entire position.
- As retaliation for your boss's bad comments, provide feedback.
Six illustrations of feedback to your boss or manager
Feedback to your superior can be tricky but can be an effective tool for clear communication and smooth workflow.
Have you ever felt like your input can fill in a gap at the manager's end, and it could benefit you? Well, you are not alone.
Research shows employee turnover was 14.9 percent lower in organizations that provided feedback to their employees than in businesses that did not provide input. Plus, teams with high levels of engagement are 21 percent more profitable.
For the Harvard Business Review Blog, Tony Schwartz writes, "The important determinant is a work environment that more completely energizes individuals by fostering their physical, emotional, and social well-being."
Situation1: If you were not selected amongst your peers for a certain project.
It's essential to speak up if you believe there is actual partiality at work, affecting your motivation and performance. Here's how you can do it:
If you are passed over for a job that you are qualified for, you should: "I was excited to begin working with our new client." Could you please tell me why I wasn't chosen to work on their file so that I can learn from my mistakes and improve in the future?"
"Without Noah's support, this initiative would not have been successful." If you are the victim of workplace favoritism and detect unjust treatment, I greatly appreciate his help."
Situation 2: If you are overwhelmed with the workload or are experiencing burnout.
If you're suffering burnout at work, you must speak up before it has further severe consequences for your mental health and well-being. Here are some suggestions of ways to approach your boss about the problem:
"After reviewing my tasks for this month, I believe that taking on this extra project would negatively influence my overall performance," you say, indicating that you have a lot on your plate. I want to perform an excellent job on this task and give it my all, but I only have so much time because I work 20 hours a week with my existing clients and 15 hours on new sales.
I'm concerned that it will place a strain on my current client relationships and my other responsibilities. Is it conceivable to talk about how we could adjust my workload?"
Recognizing and encouraging flexibility: "I appreciate you allowing me a little extra time with this project." It allowed me to fine-tune the final result and make improvements that the client appreciated."
Situation 3: When you need feedback to widen the room for growth.
If you feel like you're putting in the effort but not seeing results at work, here are some ideas for how to approach your boss about it.
Getting a sense of your growth potential: "I'm passionate about honing my talents to the point where I could one day be an excellent team leader." Would you be able to tell me if you see that kind of opportunity for me in the future at the company?"
"Since the senior leadership team is expanding, I'd like to discuss how I can help increase my own potential inside the firm as well," you can say when you observe other coworkers progressing in the organization.
Situation 4: When it smells like micro-management.
Suppose you honestly believe that your creative freedom is being stifled and that you are spending more time reporting on your responsibilities than actually executing them. In that case, you should speak with your boss. Here are some ideas for what you could say:
"I appreciate the sense of achievement I get after finishing each of my allotted chores," you say when asked to report on each activity. However, I'm concerned that I'm spending too much time writing task reports and not enough time improving my projects. Is it possible for me to submit a monthly summary of my responsibilities instead?"
"I want to understand more about our ultimate aims with this task so that I may work towards the wider picture and strengthen my work," you say when you desire more creative flexibility over the scope of a project.
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Employers should come first, and managers should be empowered. It's one of the most basic secrets of any successful business. The only way to live up to this purpose is to encourage your staff to give managers honest feedback frequently.
Managers can use employee feedback to improve their performance and listen to their employees. We often conceive feedback as a one-way street, with managers giving their direct reports comments.
It's crucial to remember that feedback is most effective when it's a two-way street—having employees submit input for management is just as vital and helpful. This is particularly essential given that only 29% of employees believe their leader's future vision is aligned with the organization's, and 16% believe their leader's image is never or rarely aligned.
As per a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 72 percent of people believe that their performance would increase if their supervisors provided corrective feedback. In fact, 57 percent of people prefer critical criticism to praise and reward, according to the same survey.
Feedback in a workplace strengthens trust and compatibility through free-flowing communication. A feedback-rich culture, where employees feel comfortable seeking and receiving feedback from their coworkers and management, can drastically alter how a company functions.