Sending feedback up the chain

How many times in your career have you waited with nervous anticipation for feedback from your manager? If am not wrong, at least once every year, if not twice or once a quarter. How many times has your manager called you in and given you immediate feedback – either positive or negative? Now let’s flip the coin.

When was the last time you sat in a room with your manager giving him/her feedback? If I were to venture a guess, I’d say never and likely be correct. I am not referring to the positive feedback you throw their way without balancing it out with how it could be done better. I am referring to evaluating them as an overall manager. I am not denying that there aren’t other ways to send the message. Most organizations have in place mechanisms to send feedback to the manager albeit anonymously. I am yet to come across a single organization where the annual appraisal includes a meeting where the subordinate shares with the manager just how well they think they were managed that year.

Have you ever wondered what it is that stops organizations from installing such a mechanism? There is not a single person who will discard the value of upward feedback. There definitely lies merit in the suggestion. After all, organizations encourage open conversations and two way feedback. Managers themselves will tell you that they are open to feedback and one must use the 1:1s to tell them how they are doing, yet the hypocrisy of it all does not fail to escape me. If the organization truly wanted transparent upward feedback, trusted managers to behave as adults and believed that there would be no form of retaliation, why is there an established process to pass feedback to a subordinate but not the manager?

Forget the formal process, unless you are brave to an extent, it is likely that you will hesitate in sharing open feedback to your manager every time you were disappointed in them. Positive feedback is easier for the fear of retaliation is low. It may even further your career. Unfortunately, some research within one company showed that sharing negative feedback with the manager usually led to some form of retaliation: Managers intentionally lowered employees’ performance evaluations. They became aggressive and even abusive toward them. They also engaged in social exclusion. You may believe that you are a better manager but hey – don’t undervalue the power of unconscious bias. The same research also showed that upward feedback improved creativity of the managers.

Do we live with the fact that while our managers will always walk into the room to give us feedback, we might never get the chance to do the same? Well, yes. It would take a very experimental organization to carry out the dangerous game of instituting transparent upward feedback. I would like to witness a world where managers take feedback just as well or poorly as we do and not retaliate consciously or unconsciously (I do not mean when passed out. No giggles). Hopefully in this lifetime. Until then we’ll continue to transmit feedback under veils.


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