Mastering Feedback to Management

Jascha Zittel

It’s always tricky providing higher-ups with feedback. With the power dynamic, individual aspirations, vanity, and fear at play, many avoid being honest with their managers. 

On the other hand, many managers think they don’t need feedback from someone they supervise — but no matter how good they may be, they do.

There’s nothing as useful for professional development as honest feedback — that’s why you should build resources and a safe space for feedback that includes all levels. 

In this article, we’ll show you the following:

  • What are feedback loops, upward and downward feedback — and how to use these tools to provide meaningful feedback for managers or supervisors;
  • How to use feedback to build a culture of feedback and recognition that goes both ways;
  • How to give feedback about your manager constructively and tastefully;
  • What kind of feedback do your managers need so they can manage their deskless team members properly?

We’ve also invited Digital Silk COO Milos Eric to share his expertise and tips on providing meaningful feedback for managers and building a strong company culture based on honesty and trust. 

Create Functional Feedback Loops 🔁

What Are Feedback Loops?

A feedback loop is a process in which feedback from a customer or an employee (or other relevant party) is used to improve the product, service, or organisation. 

Depending on who provides the feedback, there are two types of feedback loops:

  1. Negative feedback loop — A user/customer/other parties outside the organisation communicates their experiences with the product or service through the official feedback channels: case management, ticketing system, customer service, and customer surveys.
  2. Positive feedback loop — Company employees will speak up about work-related issues they face. Employees can report the issues to management, and higher-ups, use the opportunity to raise their concerns at performance reviews or respond to employee engagement surveys.

Negative feedback is a precious source of knowledge that can’t be matched even with the highest research budget possible. It’s raw, candid, and contains insights you might have missed. 

You have the opportunity to turn bad feedback to your advantage when you close the feedback loop — that’s the most crucial part of the process.

Feedback has no use unless you act on it. To close the feedback loop, gather your team members to revise the feedback you collected and identify the most common complaints and the most pressing issues.

Once you come up with the solution and implement it, get back to the customers who (more or less) kindly let you know what was wrong. Thank them for the time and patience they invested, and let them know about the positive outcome. 

The loop is now closed, and the cycle works to your advantage. 🤞

Clear the Way for Upward and Downward Feedback

They say the cobbler always wears the worst shoes. 

However, if you’re providing jobs for dozens, it’s time to (figuratively) patch your own shoes by leaning into upward and downward feedback and learning from it.

The positive feedback loop we mentioned encompasses both upward and downward feedback. They both refer to feedback that’s exchanged between managers, supervisors, and higher-ups on one side and workers on the other side, within the constraints of one company.

Downward feedback is a conventional practice of superiors giving work-related feedback to the workers they supervise and manage. 

Upward feedback is provided by workers and employees to their superiors. Staff members are encouraged to share their findings about people who direct, manage, and supervise their work or anything superiors do that somehow impacts staff.

Reading suggestion: 5 Questions To Ask Your Team Every Month

How Feedback Loops and Upward Feedback Help Deskless Managers Excel at Their Work

Milos Eric (Digital Silk COO) highlights the importance of maintaining continuous feedback loops:

Ensuring that feedback isn’t a one-off event but a continuous loop is crucial. Follow up on feedback given and received to track progress and offer support"

Managers who stay in touch with frontline staff and value their feedback have the opportunity to vastly improve working conditions and keep the workforce engaged. 

"Demonstrating your commitment to learning and improvement reinforces the value of feedback as an ongoing process

Establishing feedback loops does just that — from upward feedback, managers can learn:

  • The amount of flexibility the workforce needs and when they need to step in (without micromanaging);
  • How to equip frontline staff with smart tech that makes their work more efficient;
  • What are the health and safety needs and issues they promptly need to address and resolve? This makes the workspace physically safe and compliant with regulations.
  • How to prevent a toxic work atmosphere and contribute to a stellar workplace and company culture in person and via digital channels.
  • How to build meaningful connections with deskless workers despite them being scattered across many sites. Managers can keep the ones they manage closer and understand them better — and avoid becoming those out-of-touch managers that lack compassion.

Be Sure to Build a Strong Feedback Exchange Culture 🤝 

We need to normalise feedback.

Honest and well-meaning feedback is the most precious learning resource, and it should not induce anxiety. However, it’s always hard to speak freely about someone who has a say in your next pay check. 

Managers are responsible for creating a safe feedback atmosphere and should leave the confines of their vanity behind if they want to grow.

Milos is passionate about creating an environment where employees feel comfortable providing honest upward feedback to their managers. He claims that psychological safety is the key to high-performing teams and unlocking their potential. In regards to building a culture of constructive feedback, Milos advises:

Try this 1 action today as a manager to create psychological safety:

In your next team meeting, tell your reports exactly what you want to improve on as a manager  (based on annual reviews/feedback, etc.)

Then, ask your team to hold you accountable for growth in that area with specific requests for feedback and actions you’ll take. 

The specificity here is key. If you simply ask your teams for feedback with no specificity, the fear of giving the wrong feedback and offending the person in charge of their pay checks (you) overrides any willingness to provide feedback that can help you grow as a manager. 

Being vulnerable about your own weaknesses, transparent about your efforts to grow, and open about the ways in which those efforts have failed will not only make you a better leader — it will unlock the potential for greatness of your teams.

Additionally, it is paramount to set clear expectations in advance and ensure that everyone understands the purpose and process of feedback.

Modelling feedback behaviour is another crucial step. By showcasing how to give and receive feedback respectfully, you set the standard for others to follow.

Below are some of our tips on how to give good feedback and what to avoid.

Feedback Etiquette: How to Give Feedback About Your Manager

  • Be positive and compliment a job well done. Give credit where credit is due. Employees are empowered when their contributions are showcased and celebrated. 
  • Use professional and respectful language. Be careful not to sound brash or rude or use terms that don’t belong in the business setting. It’s easy to get carried away when you have plenty of points to discuss — prepare for the feedback session in advance, and decide what you’ll say (and how) when you’re calm and objective.
  • Be constructive and suggest possible solutions. Milos strongly advises that you offer solutions, not diagnosis:
“When giving constructive feedback to a peer or manager, focus on the impact of their behaviour, not how you would have done things"
"Share how changing priorities mid-release or providing information at the last-minute impacts you and the team’s productivity”
  • Be specific and provide examples and evidence for your claims. Again, preparation is key: revise the period behind and, if possible, gather proof for what you have to say. Don’t present it as a weapon in the courtroom, though!

Yikes! How NOT to Provide Feedback for Managers You Want to Keep

Not only does bad and ill-timed feedback not help — it will make things worse

To keep the conversation constructive, respectful, and safe, instruct your employees to avoid these situations at all costs: 

  • Don’t give feedback when clients or customers are present. You will come across as disrespectful, attempting to undermine the manager’s authority, sabotage or shame them. After all, clients are “outsiders” of sorts and not a good audience for your grievances. 
  • Don’t do it during team meetings, either. Depending on your workplace culture, it may be okay for you to share your feedback in front of other coworkers. If you have weekly sessions where giving feedback is encouraged, you may do so. If you’re unsure, wait for the opportunity to do it in private.
  • Avoid providing feedback in an informal setting. Team buildings, casual Fridays, or after-work drinks are meant for relaxation. Giving feedback (especially negative) outside the workplace and official channels can be misinterpreted and ruin the atmosphere.
  • Speak for yourself, never in others’ name. Don’t involve other coworkers or repeat what they’ve shared with you in confidence. Only address your personal concerns and discuss matters that apply to you.
  • Don’t let it get personal. You don’t need to like them as a person or share the same passions outside the work. Use feedback exchange sessions only to address things that directly impact the work.
  • Avoid doing it during times of stress. Being able to read the room is one of the most useful soft skills to develop. It will help you pick the right time and place for giving feedback — and that’s not when they’re stressed out or in a rush.

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