Addressing Manager Feedback

Like most large companies, Google regularly asks employees to give feedback on their team and managers. Receiving that feedback is one of the most stressful days of the year for me as a manager. It is honestly more stressful than a performance review. During my review, one person assesses my performance. During the manager survey, I’m being reviewed and evaluated by every person who reported to me in the last several months. No matter how anxious it makes me, it is the most valuable feedback I receive all year. Over the last five years, I’ve developed a set of steps to go through to ensure I’m using this feedback to improve myself and my team.

Step 1 - Review and feel your feelings

Step 1 is to read the data. Most managers I know read the results as soon as they come in. My manager feedback reports are a mix of survey questions with results on a Likert scale and anonymized free-text responses. I look at the survey responses first, then the free responses about areas for improvement, and then the free responses about what’s going well. There isn’t any particular reason for that; it just is the pattern I follow.

During this process, I often have emotional responses to what I read. Sometimes, some of the feedback is funny and makes me laugh. Other feedback may be hard-to-read truths about my areas for improvement. I let myself feel any sadness or defensiveness that may come up as I read. Emotions are human. If necessary, I grab time with a trusted colleague to discuss the data and my reactions. My goal is to be through whatever feelings I have before I talk to the team about the feedback. I remind myself regularly that feedback is a gift and that clear feedback is kind feedback.

Step 2 - Make a plan

It can be very demoralizing to spend time writing genuine and thoughtful feedback and feel like it is ignored. I don’t want folks who report to me to feel that way. So, after I’ve read the feedback and worked through any emotions, I sit down and make a plan for how to address it.

I do my best to address all the suggestions for improvement and negative feedback. Even if I disagree with it and even if it was just one person. Things that multiple people brought up get more attention, but I address everything. For practical reasons, I don’t address each piece of feedback directly. Instead, I group the feedback into themes or categories. For example, one of my management weak points is building team identity, and so that has come up as a theme several times over the years.

Once I have my themes, I decide on one or two concrete actions I can take to address each theme. Concrete is important. I won’t put “be more empathetic” or “do more team building activities” as an action. Instead, an action would be something like “work with a mentor on empathetic leadership techniques with three meetings before Aug 1”, “speak no more than 50% of the time in 1:1s and team meetings”, or “plan online team social activities quarterly, starting in Q2.”

Where something is out of my control, like layoffs or budgets, the action is usually to either pass that feedback up the chain or to create an environment where my team can give their feedback to leadership directly by inviting an exec from our team to a team meeting.

Step 3 - Communicate

When I finish my plan, I share it with my team and my manager. While I communicate with these audiences differently, I strive to be as objective and forward-looking as possible with both. Defensiveness and disagreement don’t help here and, in my opinion, make a manager look weak.

If possible, I share the plan with my team in the next team meeting. I want to show, with my actions, that their feedback is my highest priority. I start by thanking them for their feedback. Then, I summarize the themes in the feedback and review my action plan. I do this with slides, so there’s something written down to hold me accountable. After I’ve covered my plan, I open the floor for questions and more feedback. I do not ask the team for specific things I should do in response to their feedback. Some managers do, but I prefer not to. In my opinion, it is my job to figure out how to be a better manager, not my team’s job to teach me how to be a better manager.

I also share my feedback summary and action plan with my manager. My intent in sharing is to communicate to my manager, “I’m on top of this.” My manager could read the feedback and assign me development tasks based on their observations. And if they think my plan is insufficient, I need them to do that. But I hope they see I’m handling this well and let me continue to do things my way. I do my best work, even management, with some autonomy.

Closing Thoughts

This approach has worked for me for several years with largely positive manager feedback and also with manager feedback that wasn’t entirely positive. I’m aware that it may not work with a different team or at a different company, and I’m curious how other managers approach similar situations.