We’ve recently found ourselves in numerous conversations about leading up—the act of working with people above you to achieve better results. We’ve discovered that offering feedback is one of the most effective ways to lead up, and a study comparing the feedback climate in high-performing and low-performing teams confirms that belief. In that study, Atlassian found that nearly 60% of respondents on high-performing teams felt welcome to give feedback to their managers, whereas 85% of respondents on low-performing teams shared that feedback isn’t welcomed or encouraged by individuals higher on the organizational chart.
If we know that our team’s effectiveness is contingent on offering feedback to our leaders, why are we so hesitant to do it? We often hear that team members are concerned about whether their feedback will be well received. Interestingly, those concerns aren’t usually centered on a supervisor getting angry and firing them during a fit of rage. Instead, team members seem to be concerned about whether their feedback will hurt the senior leader. As we’ve shared in prior posts, that’s a matter of psychological safety, and we can build that for those who report to us and those we report to! If you want to ensure your feedback will be well received, follow these three steps.
- Find the Right Time Pulling our leaders aside for a feedback conversation right before they go into a big presentation or on a day that they’re slammed with meetings is a huge mistake. Think about the immediate pressures they may be facing and ask yourself if they will be in a good headspace. If you’re unsure, you can always say, “Becky, I wanted to share some feedback about our meeting yesterday. Would now be a good time, or would you like for me to schedule a meeting for later this week?”
- Use a Feedback Process that is Comfortable for You It’s tough to know where to start a feedback conversation. We suggest a general framework that includes four elements: Circumstance, Behavior, Impact, and Desire. Here’s an example:
- Circumstance: In yesterday’s meeting…
- Behavior: You announced that we would be delaying Project A’s launch to prioritize Project B.
- Impact: As the leader of Project A, I was caught off guard and wasn’t prepared to answer the questions I received after the meeting because you and I hadn’t talked about the delay ahead of time.
- Desire: I want to be ready to support your decisions in these situations. Before you make announcements like this in the future, would you be willing to huddle up with other project leaders and me to give us a heads up? Note that in the desired behavior, you offer a specific solution. That’s a critical factor in providing feedback that is well received because it shows you are invested in the leader’s success and offers a better understanding of how you would like to be led.
- Give the Leader Space to Respond When we share feedback, we often expect to see immediate and permanent changes in behavior, but that’s a bit unfair considering the science of habits. We need to trust that our leaders have taken our feedback to heart and will respond appropriately. We also need to have grace for them in moments when they slip into old behaviors, especially if they are under a significant amount of pressure. We can gently remind them of our previous feedback and offer support in those moments.
Bonus Thought: The word “feedback” has earned a negative connotation, but it’s more than highlighting shortcomings. You can (and should!) offer recognition of what your leader does well. You can use the same framework we provided above.
Here’s an example: “Yesterday, when you gave me a head’s up that we’re delaying the launch of Project A, I felt empowered to respond to the questions that we both knew would come. Thank you for trusting me with that information and allowing me the opportunity to support your decision. I hope you will continue to share critical information with me in the future.”