Just Say It #6 – Giving Upward Feedback

Just Say It #6 – Giving Upward Feedback

I had the opportunity to chat with a number of people at the recent HR Technology Conference. After asking about the best feedback they have ever been given and the impact it had on their careers, I started to notice a common theme: the value of upward feedback.

Many of the folks I spoke with were in leadership positions. They were used to delivering great feedback, not receiving it. What was fascinating was that when they finally came up with an example of feedback they’d received, it wasn’t from a former leader or mentor. It came from those who now worked for them!

A crazy thing happens when you get into a leadership position: you stop getting top-down feedback. Leaders are expected to be experts at giving feedback, but they rarely give it to each other. Instead, the best leaders search out feedback from their teams.

That’s great in theory, but tricky in practice! While many employees talk about telling their boss what they really think, few have the opportunity or forum to make these thoughts known in a constructive way.

Here are some ideas I have for employees to provide great feedback up to their supervisors and leaders:

Make it part of your feedback loop

The perfect way to start this conversation is by asking for feedback yourself. When leaders are giving feedback, I find they’re more open to receiving feedback as well.

Ensure the feedback will positively impact the leader's development

It's really easy to criticize, but far more difficult to give feedback in a positive manner that will actually help leaders develop and grow.

Wait for the right moment

I find it’s best to give feedback after you’ve received positive feedback, or had a good conversation about your performance. If you've just been given constructive criticism, providing performance feedback to your boss may sound defensive.

Have a real upward conversation

So, what does this sound like? Probably something like this:

Me: "Hi boss! Would you mind if we sat down and discussed the project we just completed? I would love to get your insight on how it went and how we could do it better the next time."

Boss: "For sure! Let's do this."

(Hold the debrief, be an active listener, take notes, etc.)

Me: "That's awesome! Thank you. I will definitely be taking your points into consideration for my next project. Something came to me while we were talking. It's something for you that I think would really help. Do you mind if I share?"

Boss: "Of course, please. What do you have?"

Me: "Something that would help me perform better would be if during the project we could touch base more often so I know what you're thinking. A couple of times we moved forward, only to have to redo some things when you didn't agree with the direction. I think we could have gotten it done sooner if we had these check-ins during the project."


This type of conversation opens up the leader to discuss things in a non-defensive manner. If things are going well, and you have more items to discuss, you can take this further. Always remember to keep your side of the conversation around development, not criticism.

Providing upward feedback is the hardest thing most employees will ever have to do, but it's critical for leaders to get the information they need to improve. We all hope our leaders will be open and ask for this regularly. When they do, how you respond is critical for their development and yours!

Tags:  For Employees


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