The Value of Upward Feedback

At Reviewsnap, we talk a lot about 360-degree feedback—collecting feedback on an employee from a variety of people they work with. Multiple perspectives result in well-rounded evaluations since employees have unique interactions with managers, direct reports, peers, and customers.

Despite the value of 360-degree feedback, the manager-direct report relationship carries the most importance. We’ve all heard the saying, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit their boss.” And it’s true. A Gallup survey revealed that 75 percent of professionals who recently resigned from a job cited their manager as the reason for their exit.

Enter upward feedback. This evaluation method allows the direct report to provide feedback to their manager. It requires a delicate approach but, when done correctly, improves leadership and employee engagement. 

Upward feedback benefits 

A typical evaluation for a manager focuses on the performance of their department. They might receive some coaching on how they lead but the higher-ups mostly care about the quantifiable results their team members deliver.

Making upward feedback part of the manager’s evaluation has many benefits, including improving their team’s performance. 

Illuminating for the manager

The best leaders genuinely care about being a good boss. They understand their management style impacts the experiences their direct reports have at work. 

But even managers with the best intentions have flaws they’re not aware of. And the people who can help them understand where they can grow as a boss are the ones who work for them every day. 

Encourages strong leadership

One of the most overlooked benefits of any type of performance review is its power to influence behavior. When people know they’ll be assessed on certain factors, they keep them in mind as they go about their work.

Involving direct reports in the review process encourages leaders to look inward and consider if they’re the type of boss they would want to work for. They think beyond results and strive to lead with empathy and awareness. 

Boosts team morale

Most unhappy professionals keep their grievances to themselves until they eventually decide to move onto the next opportunity. They feel sharing their thoughts about their manager will do more harm than good.

Giving them a medium to speak up—in a healthy and constructive manner—is an excellent way to improve morale. It shows your organization and their manager cares about them having a positive work experience. 

Leads to team improvement

Employee satisfaction is a major driver of productivity. And how an employee feels about their job is highly dependent on their relationship with their manager. 

Engaged employees go the extra mile because they know their hard work is appreciated and doesn’t go unnoticed.

Effectively collecting upward feedback

A lot of organizations are reluctant to make upward feedback part of their review process. And rightfully so. They assume it’s a waste of time since direct reports wouldn’t dare say anything critical about their boss. Or even worse, they’ll go too far and damage their relationship with their manager. 

As with any potential change, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and determine how to form an optimal upward feedback process. Here are some tips that can help.

Set expectations for managers

Start by letting your leadership team know their performance reviews will be evolving to include feedback from their direct reports. Run through the benefits with them and stress the importance of being receptive to the feedback they receive. 

Create guidelines for direct reports

Expectations are a two-way street. Coach direct reports on how to share honest feedback in a professional and respectful manner. If you choose to make evaluations anonymous (more on that next), make sure they understand their identity will still be known by HR.


While direct reports can be overly-critical with upward feedback, most will be inclined to say only good things. You can capture their true thoughts by protecting their identity so they don’t have to worry about falling on bad terms with their manager. Keep in mind there are positives and negatives to anonymous evaluations so go in the direction that best suits your organization.  

Use evaluation forms

We saved the best tip for last. Much of the challenges of upward feedback can be avoided by asking direct reports to complete evaluation forms. Instead of crafting responses to questions about their manager, they simply select a rating from a scale. They can give authentic feedback without the risk of saying anything that crosses the line. 

Help managers grow as leaders

The purpose of performance reviews is to encourage employees to make strides in all areas of their jobs. When done correctly, upward feedback is an excellent way to help managers get even better at leading their teams.