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Upward feedback: how to ask for it and act on it

Building a culture of trust and accountability in your team

A Gallup survey found that 45% of actively disengaged employees in Germany would fire their supervisor on the spot if they could. Psychologist Michelle McQuaid’s survey found that 65% of employees in the US would prefer a better boss to a pay raise. A global study by Development Dimensions International revealed that 60% of employees surveyed said their boss had damaged their self-esteem. Another study by Monster.com reported that 84% of respondents thought they would do a better job than their manager. Lastly, a Harvard Business Review and Cornell study showed 42% of respondents withholding feedback when they feel they simply have nothing to gain (or something to lose) by sharing what’s on their minds. 

Sounds extreme? Before you assume this couldn’t be the case in your organization, think about the last time you asked your team for feedback on your performance as their leader / manager. Poor communication between managers and employees is one of the leading causes of declining job satisfaction and higher employee turnover rates. Gallup’s report on management in the US revealed that employees whose managers were not approachable were 65% more likely to be actively disengaged. If the last time you asked your employees for feedback was more than a month ago, it’s time to rethink your managerial habits.

Even if you are now motivated to receive constructive feedback from your team, chances are they’re exactly lining up to give it to you. To help you get the authentic feedback you need, we’ve outlined a few easy habits you can build into your work life.  

1. Schedule regular 1:1 sessions to build feedback into the flow of work

Scheduling regular 1:1 sessions with your team is a good way to get them comfortable with giving you feedback. If they become accustomed to having casual monthly or weekly discussions with you about their performance, they’ll be more likely to feel comfortable giving you honest constructive feedback. Additionally, a Gallup management report found that employees who have regular meetings with their managers are three times more likely to be engaged than employees who do not. See our blog for further reading on how to run effective 1:1s.

When your team does start opening up, make sure to proactively demonstrate how you’re implementing their feedback in future 1:1s. Seeing you take steps to follow their suggestions will encourage them to be more open.

2. Ask the right questions, and do something about the answers you receive

Most employees, especially in high context cultures like Asia, will still feel uncomfortable giving their managers constructive feedback. Asking them directed and specific questions will help you get them to open up. If you want your employee’s straightforward opinion on an issue, try asking them an action oriented question, and follow up with clarifying questions if need be. Asking an open-ended “How can I provide you more opportunities to develop your project management skills?” will get a far better response than a yes-no “Am I providing you enough opportunities to develop your project management skills?”

When you do receive some valuable inputs, try to fashion them into an action plan for yourself. State what you can do in the future and what you will need from your team to be held accountable to it. For example,

“I’ll try to review all presentations 24 hours in advance so we have ample time to discuss review comments and make revisions collaboratively. To do this, I’ll need you to help me by getting reports to me at least 1.5 days in advance.” 

3. Display emotional intelligence and role-model the right attitude towards feedback

It might go without saying, but the most important element of opening up channels of upward feedback is to keep your emotions in check. Constructive feedback can leave the best of us feeling defensive, even more so when it’s coming from someone below us in the old-fashioned sense of hierarchy. However, if we want to build trust in our team and have our team members be accepting of our feedback, we must role-model the desired behavior and accept feedback with an open mind.  

4. Put yourself in their shoes

If what you’re hearing as feedback doesn’t resonate with your intentions, try to see things from your team’s perspective. While you might be trying to help them out by giving them tried and tested answers from your experience, your team might be perceiving your inputs to be autocratic.  

In some cases, the feedback you receive may need you to accept you need to change your behavior. Even if your actions are merely misinterpreted (which is most often the case), what matters is that you realize how it affects your team and find ways to alter your behavior accordingly. Some common remedies may include adjusting your tone of voice, being more insistent on demanding employee opinions, making yourself available for coaching more often, being mindful of employee interests and strengths when assigning tasks, and spending more time ensuring your instructions are clear.

Your team will also expect you to address major issues in the workplace and encourage a positive atmosphere in the office. For example, if one of your employees is consistently causing discord with a poor work ethic, your team will look to you to point this out and set clear expectations to maintain harmony. 

Key take-aways

While nurturing a culture of upward feedback might be a slow process, it goes a long way in building a positive work environment and driving employee engagement. If employees are known for leaving their bosses not their companies, they’re also known for performing better and being loyal when supported by a great manager. Building these habits will not only make your team more effective, but also help you become a better leader. 

Do you have any other tips or advise for managers to be better at leading teams? We’d love to hear from you. Write to us at contactus@peoplemesh.com.

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