Advancing through an organization and taking on a leadership role requires a dedication to continuous learning and feedback. While learning from those above us is important, garnering feedback from those in a subordinate role can provide valuable insights.

Yet, providing feedback to someone in a manager role can be intimidating. Here are some of the best examples of honest employee feedback for managers, tips for delivering feedback, and avoiding backlash.

Why does manager feedback matter?

Managers take a step back and gain a high-level overview of the day-to-day operations when they take on a leadership role. While this distance helps with planning and organization, it also mitigates their understanding of the minutiae. Feedback can help foster an understanding and inform them of the reasons behind delays, decisions, and other influencing factors.

It's also important to consider the stages of competence. Someone new to a manager role may not know their strengths and limitations as a leader. This is known as "unconscious incompetence" during the learning process— in other words, not knowing what you don't know. Providing feedback highlights those gaps so the manager can continue to develop and reach "conscious incompetence" and, eventually, become a great leader.

How to give feedback to managers: 4 effective tips

Timing and delivery are essential when sharing feedback with managers. It's important to reflect and be intentional when sharing feedback to avoid conflict. Consider these practical tips:

1. Only provide helpful feedback

Before you share, ask yourself whether the feedback you're presenting is helpful. Can the situation be changed, or is it outside of the manager's control? Similarly, consider whether the feedback you're sharing is actionable.

For example, consider a situation where the entire company is switching to a new hiring software. While the applicant tracking system and streamlined onboarding process will be beneficial, the process change is stressful.

Telling your manager the process is stupid and pointless helps nothing. It's not helpful or actionable. However, identifying a step that could make the change easier would add value to the feedback.

It's also beneficial to pair negative feedback with positive. For example, "I've appreciated how you've guided us through this change to our department. Our check-in meetings have been helpful. However, I have a change I'd like to suggest."

2. Be sure the timing is right

Timing is another crucial consideration when sharing feedback for managers. Set aside some private time to share your thoughts.

The performance review process is also great for sharing high-level feedback in an appropriate setting. Discuss the obstacles you've experienced and your suggestions for overcoming them in the future.

3. Say it professionally

Building rapport and professional friendships with managers is common. However, it's vital to maintain professional boundaries when sharing feedback.

Avoid relying on emotions or perceptions and stick to the facts. Use clear examples and avoid using blaming language or "you" statements. Use professional language, free of profanity, and a calm, positive tone.

4. Say it clearly

It's natural to digress or avoid the main subject if you feel nervous about sharing your thoughts, but it's important to be clear and direct.

Avoid over-explaining or avoiding the topic at hand. Get right to the point and be clear about your observations, thoughts, and improvement ideas.

Keep a simple formula: "I'd like to discuss X. It's been a challenge because Y. I think we could improve it by Z."

How not to give feedback to managers

While learning how to give feedback to managers is important, it's also crucial to know what to avoid. Here are three key things to keep in mind for how not to provide feedback.

1. Avoid stressful periods

Stressful periods at work often bring up the most thoughts around pain points and improvement opportunities. However, your manager is likely also stressed during these periods. For example, if you work in accounting and have feedback about the month-end process, consider waiting until after this period is closed before sharing feedback to try for the next month-end. This approach allows your manager to deal with the deadlines so they'll be more receptive and attentive.

2. Avoid an audience

Don't share feedback with an audience. The right time to share is never during a meeting in front of the entire team and your manager's boss. Sharing feedback with others can create a sense of embarrassment and passive aggressiveness. Schedule something with human resources if you're concerned about sharing feedback alone.

3. Don’t vent without constructive feedback

Venting is a natural response to stressful periods at work. However, venting to your manager without adding constructive ideas for improvement isn't helpful. This tone will feel like an attack and could elicit a negative reaction.

Examples of positive feedback for managers

Now that you know the general rules and guidelines for sharing your thoughts and improvement tips, here's how to write positive feedback for managers based on different scenarios.

Sharing feedback on leadership efforts

  1. I appreciate your support and direction during this project.
  2. I've learned a lot from your mentoring efforts and appreciate the extra time and energy you invest in my growth.
  3. Thank you for helping me set goals during my performance review. The direction you've provided has helped me stay engaged and productive.
  4. I'm grateful for your flexibility and compassion as I try to find a healthy work-life balance. It feels good to work for a place that views us as humans.
  5. I appreciate your always being ready to jump in and help when things get busy. It helps take the pressure off so we can get things done.
  6. Thanks for your trust in my decision-making. It's helped me become more autonomous and confident.

Sharing communication feedback for managers

  1. I really appreciate your dedication to open communication. It keeps us all on the same page.
  2. It's really valuable when you share the thought process that led you to your decisions. It helps me understand the context behind what I'm doing.
  3. Thank you for keeping us updated on what's going on with the company. I appreciate the transparency.
  4. I like the structure you've put in place for meeting notes and progress updates. It helps ensure we all know our next steps.
  5. The vacation request calendar you've put in place is so helpful. It prevents miscommunication and frustration.
  6. Thank you for creating an open-door policy and for sharing our thoughts. It's helpful to feel heard.
  7. Thanks for being transparent in your decision-making and communication. It's helped build trust in the team.

Sharing feedback on expectations and role

  1. I appreciate how clearly you've outlined the expectations for this project. It helps me stay on track and eliminates stress around the deliverables.
  2. Thank you for recognizing my potential and giving me this new responsibility.
  3. Your boundaries for managing work-life balance are so appreciated. They keep team morale high.
  4. Thanks for finding a way to balance our workloads. It helps me feel engaged and busy without being overwhelmed.
  5. Thanks for clarifying the expectations with this project. A clear direction and deadline will help me stay focused and engaged.
  6. Thanks for being receptive to discussing my workload. I was overwhelmed with the new project, and I appreciate the support.
  7. Thanks for clarifying the priorities, so I know which work to emphasize in the coming weeks.

Feedback on recognition and gratitude

  1. "Thanks for sharing recognition during team meetings. It feels good to be recognized for my work.
  2. Thanks for creating a culture of peer recognition and gratitude. It helps our team work well together.
  3. I appreciate you mentioning my efforts during the meeting with X. It makes me feel valued.
  4. I appreciate how you celebrate the efforts over the outcomes. It's nice to be recognized for the hard work, not just the results.
  5. Your gratitude helps our team morale during difficult work periods.
  6. I appreciate your continued effort in helping the team feel appreciated and valued. It helps me stay motivated and engaged.
  7. Thanks for giving credit on this project to the team. We couldn't have got it done without your leadership and support.

Examples of negative feedback for managers

Giving negative feedback to managers can be challenging too. When providing negative feedback to a manager, you must let them know you have witnessed a disastrous event or have experienced a failure that has put the company's performance and objectives at risk without placing the manager in an embarrassing position. Let us now see how to write negative feedback for managers based on different scenarios.

Sharing feedback on leadership efforts

  1. I appreciate the trust and autonomy you give us, but we could use more feedback and direction about expectations for this project.
  2. You have so much valuable experience as a leader. It would be great to get more one-on-one coaching time, so I could learn from you.
  3. Some of our meetings feel dominated by the same team members each time. It would be helpful if you asked individually for their input so everyone could be heard.
  4. I appreciate your dedication to ensuring things get done, but I lack the autonomy to make decisions in my role. It would be helpful if I could have some leeway so I can do my best work.
  5. I'm glad you're trusting me with this new responsibility, but I need more guidance as I get comfortable in the role.
  6. It would be helpful to have more context when you share feedback or direction. This will help me better understand the desired outcome.

Sharing communication feedback for managers

  1. I appreciate your passion and drive, but the team doesn't have space to share our thoughts during meetings. Would it be possible to institute an open floor period?
  2. There seem to be gaps in communication on some projects. I believe we can avoid those by bringing back updated meetings or emails. What are your thoughts?
  3. I know you're busy and working hard to get things done. I'd love to hear more context about how my role contributes to these efforts so I can be supportive.
  4. Our meetings seem to be running over and eating into working time lately. I think we could keep them on track by using an agenda to protect everyone's time. I'd be happy to put one together for our next meeting.
  5. Our meetings seem to be taking on a negative tone lately. I think the meetings would be more engaging and uplifting if we started by celebrating positive efforts and wins.
  6. There are a lot of emails throughout the day. I wonder if there's a better way to communicate to avoid disruptions, like a quick end-of-day meeting or unified update. What are your thoughts?
  7. There seem to be inconsistencies in how to request time off. Would you mind clarifying the current scheduling and priority format?

Sharing feedback on expectations and role

  1. I feel there's an unfair imbalance in workloads across the team and would love to discuss an opportunity to delegate.
  2. I feel like expectations were not clearly defined for this project. It would be helpful if we could have a more detailed discussion at the start of projects to ensure we're on the same page.
  3. I'd like to clarify your expectations for this role so we can avoid miscommunication and disappointment in the future.
  4. I don't feel like I have the bandwidth to give my full attention to this new responsibility right now. Can we discuss how this fits with my current role?
  5. You said earlier that you expect X, but in the meeting, you highlighted that you want Y. These expectations seem contradictory. Could you please clarify?
  6. The outcomes you've defined seem unrealistic based on challenges X, Y, and Z. Can we discuss how to reach those goals?
  7. Given my current workload, I can't meet the proposed deadline for this task. Can we discuss priorities or adjust the deadline accordingly?

Feedback on recognition and gratitude

  1. The team worked hard on this project. It would be helpful for morale to have that effort acknowledged.
  2. I'm glad you shared the outcomes of my research project at the broader team meeting. Next time, could you mention my efforts in the outcomes?
  3. I appreciate your sharing constructive feedback to help me learn and improve. It would also be helpful to hear more positive feedback, so I know what I've done well.
  4. Seeing that leadership appreciated our department's numbers this quarter was nice. In the future, could you acknowledge our efforts on all our parts?
  5. It seems like some team members receive more acknowledgment and gratitude than others. This has led to perceptions of favoritism. What are your thoughts on how we can change this?
  6. I went above and beyond on this project and feel proud of the outcome. It would be incredibly helpful to see some recognition.

Brands thriving with a feedback culture

Creating a feedback culture helps keep employee morale high and turnover low. Here are some brands thriving with a feedback culture.

Hubspot

A part of Hubspot's mission is not an open-door policy but a "no door" policy. Everyone has access to everyone. Sharing positive and constructive feedback is ingrained in the company culture, and this continuous improvement effort led Hubspot to win the 2022 Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Award.

Hubspot is highly regarded for treating its culture like a product. In this case, the employee is the customer, and their feedback shapes the future of the business. They also offer quarterly peer bonuses in which employees nominate each other for a reward reflecting their contributions. According to CEO Katie Burke, “You get feedback on how you embodied one of HubSpot’s values daily."

Hubspot embodies the Continue/Consider feedback model used by leading brands like General Electric (GE). This positive reinforcement focuses on what people are doing well rather than what they should change. The idea is to reward behavior that should continue.

Slack

Feedback has been ingrained in the Slack culture since day one. Their overwhelming success as a billion-dollar company stems from collecting customer feedback on their beta launch. As such, it should come as no surprise that they've continued this success with employee feedback.

"Leaders should invite feedback," says Larkin Ryder, interim chief security officer at Slack, "Your vulnerabilities are opportunities for your team to learn.”

Slack also uses its own tools to support its feedback culture. The teams often use project retros to review what worked, what didn't, and how everyone can improve. Slack also uses dedicated announcement channels to keep employees up to date and an "Ask Executives Anything" channel that employees can use to ask questions or share ideas.

Psychological safety is also a top priority at Slack. The team defines its culture as "default to open" and prioritizes making the space feel psychologically safe for people to share thoughts and feedback.

Bento

Bento is a human-first business with a flat organizational structure. Everything is open and transparent, with strong work-life balance priorities. Bento's CEO, Farhan Ahmad, sits in the same room as everyone else and often opens the floor to feedback from employees at all levels.

Engineer John Turner recalls a meeting when a colleague shared a passionate round of improvement feedback with Ahmad. Ahmad talked out the issues, thanked him for the insight, and encouraged everyone to follow suit. Bento was recognized in the 2019 Best Places to Work in Chicago.

One of Bento's core missives is "Be Human With Each Other." According to Marketing Manager Shuyi Shang, the open-door policy is more than just a pretty saying posted on a wall. Employees of all levels are frequently encouraged to share feedback. Everyone eats lunch together to break down hierarchical barriers and facilitate open conversation.

Paxos

"Real-Time Candor" is one of Paxos's core values. Rather than waiting for a performance review meeting, employees at Paxos are encouraged to share feedback at all levels, in real-time. This feedback approach

According to the Paxos mission, "We know that’s how we’ll improve and get the best results. We let down our defenses and know that direct, earnest feedback is best for the work."

The Paxos feedback culture starts with the interview. According to COO Andrew Chang, candidates are challenged to share their real-time candor during the interview by providing feedback about Paxos' hiring process to the executive team. Candidates who are willing to speak up and tell the VP what they could do better are what Paxos looks for when hiring.

This feedback framework is known as the radical candor model, which prioritizes direct, honest, and depersonalized feedback that targets actions rather than people. It's a common feedback framework used in organizations like Qualitrics and WellPath.

Final thoughts on how to give feedback to managers

When learning how to write feedback for managers, professionalism, timing, and actionability is essential. Get into a habit of regularly sharing positive feedback and shaping the culture from within. A few ways of delivering feedback include:

  • Asking open questions
  • Being specific
  • Giving examples
  • Ending on a positive note

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