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Better Ways To Ask Your Team For Feedback As A Manager

Getting feedback at any point in your career is essential. It becomes even more critical as one becomes a manager because it can make a discernible difference in the entire team's performance, amplifying your effort. Additionally, great managers, especially those visibly striving to improve, are essential to retain high performers and maintain morale. Employees consistently tout bad managers as one of the top reasons to leave a job. Ironically, managers seldom receive valuable upward feedback, mainly because they often ask, "Do you have feedback for me?" which provokes the employees to feel apprehensive about giving honest feedback for a few reasons.

When asked in this vague way, employees hold back because they:

  • Fear retribution

  • Lack trust that the manager genuinely wants to improve

  • Feel the pressure of being responsible for managing the manager

  • Don't know what feedback to give because they don’t know what a manager should do well

The last point highlights the often missed reality that upward feedback is about how the employee feels the manager treats/helps/enables them, and not about the overall performance of the manager. In other words, employees are not in charge of developing the manager or assigning them performance marks. Employees are more likely to provide constructive feedback if they are convinced that the feedback will improve their experience and performance.

Employees are also more likely to give feedback if they believe that the employer is self-aware enough to understand the context of the feedback, has good intentions, and will genuinely make an effort to improve. When employees feel that it is "worth the risk" to share their feedback, they are more likely to do so.

Then, what is the right way to ask for feedback as a manager? Unlike implementing a 360-degree review process, which has its merits and flaws, everyday conversations provide opportunities to gain employees' perspectives without mentioning the word "feedback."

A great way to gather better feedback is to use top manager complaints and turn them into an open question. This will help you not become defensive about what you do poorly but rather help you focus on opportunities that will have a tangible impact on the team's performance.

To do this:

  1. Reflect on how you are doing against top managerial traits (your company may have a development paradigm, or there are tons of resources on traits of leadership and great managers)

  2. Assess which traits would make the most significant difference in your team's performance if you did them better.

  3. Once you have a few traits you want to target, be clear that you want to hear their experience, not a judgement or grading of your actions, i.e., avoid phrasing request as “am I doing good or badly on this”.

  4. Be candid about the intent behind your current actions so the employee can be specific about their experience of those actions, e.g., “I am explaining this in the way I would understand it, but I would love to understand whether a different explanation would be clearer for you" is more impactful and inviting than "Can you give me feedback on my communication.”

Most importantly, you must accept the feedback and follow up with action to ensure the feedback giver knows their effort and risk was worthwhile. Once they see their opinions taken seriously and appreciated, they will be open to giving you more open feedback.

Below are examples:

Common complaint: "My manager micromanages."

Try this: "I want to ensure you have enough autonomy to grow in your role while providing necessary oversight to ensure timely support. Does the current communication cadence work to achieve that balance? I would love to hear where I can lean in less or more."

Common complaint: "Everything is urgent and I am burning out."

Try this: "I want to make sure the deliverables and timelines are realistic. Can we go through your list and see what we should reprioritize? Also, I would love to hear if I can be a resource, bring resource, or debottleneck."

Common complaint: "Manager doesn't tell me why I am working on this."

Try this: "Do you feel you have enough context on your projects? Please let me know if you are wondering why you are working on something or what the deliverables should look like—it might seem clear from my perspective, but it's even more important that it's clear to you as well."

Common complaint: "Don't care enough about my development."

Try this: "If you see opportunities where I can support you in new challenges or gain visibility in the organization, please let me know; I might not be seeing the opportunities you can see."

Common complaint: "Lack of accountability from manager."

Try this: "I am trying to balance empowering you to make decisions with appropriate accountability with supporting you behind the scenes. Can I do that more explicitly so you feel we are a team especially when things to awry?"

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