Blog: The power of reverse feedback - A tool and an art

Performance Management

The power of reverse feedback - A tool and an art

Giving effective feedback is definitely an important management tool and is considered as an art, which managers master over a period of time
The power of reverse feedback - A tool and an art

There is extensive literature available on the importance of feedback and how it helps in an individual’s development and progression. The receiver of the feedback immensely gains from the insights and revelations received during the process.

As human beings, over a period of time we get used to working in a particular style and certain behavioural traits become an inherent part of our nature. We stop noticing some of these habits and traits, which are in fact not appreciated by others. These characteristics form the blind-spot personality quadrant as per the Johari window concept and it is important that one gets insights from external sources to minimise such spots.

It is also well established and known from various reputed research sources that an important trait among effective managers is their proficiency at giving feedback to their subordinates. “Giving Effective Feedback” is definitely an important management tool and is considered as an art, which managers master over a period of time. The process of giving feedback down the corporate hierarchy is common and pervasive.

Clearly, the engagement level of team members who get real time feedback from their supervisors is better than those who hardly get to know how they are fairing vis-a-vis their supervisor expectations. These inputs, which help employees make behavioural changes and take course corrections, in turn lead to increased morale and higher confidence level. It also increases the trust level between the subordinate and the supervisor.

It is prominent that all good organizations have formal feedback systems and enabling mechanisms to ensure there is continuous flow of feedback down the hierarchy. A manager is expected to give formal feedback to his direct reports from time to time. Hence clearly top down feedback is more of a norm now.

It is equally important that managers learn the art of seeking inputs from their subordinates.

The Concept of Reverse Feedback

The objective of this write-up is to draw reader’s attention to another powerful facet of feedback that has mostly remained overlooked and unexplored, Reverse feedback or to say Bottom-up feedback which flows upwards from employees to their managers. From a social perspective, every manager has an inherent tendency to know what his reportees think about him, what they like about him and how they perceive his behavioural and functional managing style. Though there are well known surveys which capture employee ratings on various supervisor parameters but these numerical figures do not convey the finer behavioural points and the personal feelings which an in-person feedback session can capture.

A lot of HR professionals who have implemented 360 degree feedback systems admit that upward feedback process needs further strengthening and streamlining.

Benefits

In the endeavour to create true openness and transparency within the culture, it is important that bilateral feedback is encouraged irrespective of the hierarchy and power distance.

For supervisors to build leadership capabilities and inculcate superior management traits there is no better opportunity than to improvise on the feedback inputs that they receive from the reportees. Not only will this feedback be extremely pertinent, but will also be linked to the immediate work settings which will help the manager relate easily.

This will also address the habit of badmouthing and cribbing which some employees do against their managers within their peer group.

This is a win-win situation and by being able to freely give feedback to his supervisor, the employee not only feels empowered, but also realises that he is playing an important developmental role.

Challenges

There might be initial apprehensions and inhibitions on part of employees to give feedback directly to their immediate supervisors but a supporting environment along with open minded attitude displayed by managers will encourage this practice. Initially it will be difficult to give candid and honest feedback to their immediate bosses. There will be inhibitions like what if my superior takes an offence or what if he develops a disliking against me post the feedback. Such apprehensions will always be there but can be addressed through transparent culture, leadership support and encouragement from the organization.

Also, depending on individual nature, not all managers will be completely receptive to feedback from subordinates. Some of them might show reservation initially but once they start realising the benefits of these inputs in their professional life, their acceptability will gradually increase. They will also get inspired by their other managerial colleagues who are encouraging this as a practice in their respective teams.

Interventions Required

To begin with, it is important to sensitize the managers on importance and advantages of soliciting feedback from their direct reports with whom they spend most of their working hours and how this can strengthen company’s culture.

Somewhere, the initiation has to come from the managers themselves. They will need to proactively ask for feedback from directs and welcome their inputs. This will increase the comfort level within team members and they will gradually get accustomed to giving feedback upwards.

To support this as organization initiative, HR can initiate the process by scheduling formal “Reverse Feedback” sessions where employees are given a forum to give feedback to their supervisors as per some suggested structured framework like below:

Positive Reinforcement

  1. I really feel motivated when you....................
  2. Two things I like about you as my manager are..........
  3. I get inspired by your.......................
  4. It was a nice experience when you......................
  5. Two things which you should do more as a manager..........

Negative Reinforcement

  • I really get discouraged when you...................
  • Two things that I don’t like about you as my manager are.................
  • Two areas where I would possibly like to see a change in you as my manager are...................
  • It was not a pleasant experience when you................
  • I request you not to....................................
  • You come across as a very...........................

Suggestive Reinforcement

  • If you could..............
  • At times I feel that you should........................
  • My suggestion to you for becoming a better manager is.......................
  • I would request that you ............................ being my supervisor
  • I would be happy if you can..............................................

Reverse feedback comments should not be used for any evaluation purpose and should be used purely for manager’s self consumption and realisation. This will ensure objectivity and fairness in the process. It should be a developmental agenda for all supervisors to periodically take feedback from their reportees and work on them.

Ending Note

The famous Gallup statement that “People join company and leave their supervisor” reinforces the importance of having a two way communication channel. If employees can get the confidence of giving fair and candid feedback to their managers on a timely basis, any accumulated concerns, differences and grievances can be shared and sorted in an effective manner through reverse feedback.

So, as a manager widen your horizon and next time you keep your cabin door open advocating the open door policy of the organization to encourage employees to walk in freely, do also invite them proactively to come in and share their feedback with you !!

Topics: Performance Management, Employee Engagement

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