Upward Feedback 101: Soliciting Constructive Input from Subordinates
There are many different ways to measure managerial effectiveness, ranging from traditional performance reviews to newfangled computer simulations, and each method seems to have its own fan club of enthusiastic supporters. Faced with all of the choices that are now available, it can be difficult to determine which approach to use when assessing your organization’s managers.
The criteria for defining an effective manager can change radically in different settings. For example, the qualities and skills that help a supervisor or executive leader excel in a large chain hotel probably wouldn’t translate well into a boutique bed and breakfast.
However, there is one universal characteristic that is shared by supervisors and managers in virtually every organization -- most are responsible for overseeing a staff of subordinates. In fact, overseeing staff is a core job function for the majority of managers. Still, a surprising number of commonly used managerial assessment scales don’t seem to reflect this reality.
In contrast, the concept of “upward feedback” relies on subordinates’ assessment and perspectives of their managers as a major part of evaluating managerial effectiveness. Upward feedback -- a variation of the more widely-known 360-degree feedback method -- is based on the common-sense principle that managers can only be as good as their employees say they are.
Although upward feedback techniques vary, most rely on anonymous surveys and questionnaires to solicit subordinates’ input on aspects of a manager’s performance. In most cases, this feedback forms only one part of the evaluation process.
According to Allen H. Church, managerial consultant, Columbia University professor, and editor of The Handbook of Multisource Feedback, organizations using upward feedback often enjoy gains in both managerial effectiveness and employee job satisfaction. Because employees feel that their input is regarded as valuable, they often develop a stronger sense of empowerment and commitment to the organization. In addition, managers are often able to benefit from the uniquely candid insight into their performance that upward feedback provides.
Thinking of incorporating upward feedback into your evaluation process? These guidelines can help ensure a smooth implementation.
First, Get Management Staff on Board.
The crucial first step of implementing an effective upward feedback program is cultivating top-down support within the organization. At first, managers and supervisors may be resistant to the idea of soliciting feedback from their subordinates. Remind them that accountability is a vital part of effective management, and that feedback of any kind is an opportunity for growth and improvement. Ideally, take the time to work through any lingering misgivings before proceeding.
Keep in Mind that Confidentiality is Key.
In everyday interactions, most employees don’t feel comfortable providing honest feedback to their bosses, because they often suspect it might imperil their standing or their job security. In order to optimize the accuracy of upward feedback, employee anonymity must be protected. Online surveys or questionnaires administered by outside firms may be necessary to ensure complete confidentiality.
Remind participating employees that this is a chance to improve performance and effectiveness, rather than an opportunity to engage in petty or unfair criticism.
Create an Action Plan.
Once the survey results are in, analyze them carefully, looking for recurring issues and concerns. Based on these findings, work with the manager to create a viable strategy for addressing any significant issues. If possible, include a timeline and clearly-defined benchmarks for improvement.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up.
Establish a schedule for revisiting the findings and assessing the manager’s responsiveness to the proposed changes. If the process proved beneficial, make plans to include upward feedback as an ongoing part of your organization’s performance review process for all managers and supervisors who oversee staff.