Bottom’s Up: Why the future of feedback is from the bottom up

5 Minutes

The future of feedback is from the bottom up

“The Great Resignation” is something that, while I’m not classically intellectually skeptical of terms hyped by the media, I cannot deny as a genuine phenomenon.  Talent mobility is at an all time high. Information moves through our society faster than it ever has before, and economic forces are culminating in a perfect storm that is sending shockwaves through everyone’s work lives. 

I think the  arguments around the great resignation are more interesting in regards of the lasting effects - which properties of the conditions we’re seeing now and the outcomes of how we handle them will be long lasting beyond the next market cycle in the post-covid world? 

There’s far too many to prognosticate on the balance, but I’d like to talk about one trend I’ve seen emerging that I think is really here to stay - upwards feedback. 

Not too many years ago, it would have been completely unheard of to create a feedback process for employees in which the feedback flowed from the individual up to the manager.  The idea of feedback is that it was for the worker, the individual, the person performing work and producing a real work product; that was who needed feedback and the resources should really be geared to facilitating the leader in charge of that employee’s success delivery of that feedback. 

That feedback still matters.  Performance measurement, performance reviews, feedback sessions, all that stuff still matters - but there’s a new game in town that I think the best companies are wising up to - especially in the retail and skilled labor environment, and that’s upwards feedback.

The idea of upwards feedback is you’re measuring the performance of the leader through a new lens, not just whether or not the individuals that report to that leader are successful (in many cases the success of those individuals may be entirely orthogonal to the effectiveness of the leader - can you think of a time where you succeeded even with a shitty boss? I’ve got a few.), this is the “classic” way of deciding if a leader is successful.

The new way has a bit more nuance.  The way we’re seeing companies evolve their leadership performance measurement is to give real weight to the overall engagement of the employees on the team as well as their reported observation of how their leader behaves.  This really flips some classic concepts on their head.  

No longer is the leader master and commander, this force that’s meant to drive employee performance through discipline and means that are justified by the business outcome ex post facto, but rather, the company must find a way to achieve effective performance outcomes while maintaining a sustainable and supportive work culture. 

Some companies have long been aware of this, but if somewhere there was a magic dial that showed how committed the average company was to to this concept, the pandemic took it from a 4.5 to an 11.  

People leave bosses, not companies.  

It’s an old and perhaps somewhat trite adage at this point, but it’s fundamentally solid.  Human relationships matter.  We’re a social species.  If you enjoy the interpersonal relationship between yourself and your leader, it’s one less thing that will make you likely to change jobs and it’s also one more thing that will support your further growth and subsequent loyalty to the company.  We see this play out constantly over tons of different companies in different industries, different parts of the world, all with different people working at them - bonded by the same concept - people who feel like their relationship with their leader is valuable to them are more likely to want to remain with their company.  

“What this means in the time of the great resignation, where companies are grasping for any means available to retain the employees, as they’re finally discovering the idea that accountability for leaders for their part in fostering a positive relationship with their employees is critical to the overall rate of retention of their talent, is that companies finally care enough to invest, to experiment, and most important to change how they look at feedback.”

It’s not a subtle change either.  For many leaders, the idea of coming to work and being held accountable to how your team members feel about you and about the surrounding work environment and its culture all while trying to achieve the performance goals of the organization is a daunting task.  It’s not easy to be an effective leader in this context.  Real leadership skills - delegating work, coaching, providing feedback, driving performance of individuals - these aren’t skills you acquire in the typical education experience that brings you to a point in your career where you’re successful enough to earn the job of leading others.  

In many cases, being promoted into “management” is seen more of a punishment than a prize, evidenced by the growing trend of the expansion of titles of individual contributors to create career paths that do not require direct management.  You can see this really quickly by adding the term “senior” (classic), “principle” (I don’t hate this one) or “distinguished” (ok this one cracks me up, I’m not going to lie) to any typical individual contributor title and searching for it on LinkedIn. 

An example of a job title that oversells the seniority of the role

Go ahead, try Principle Product Manager.  11K+ results. 

Some people don’t want to be leaders, because the truth is leading people is way tougher than it looks in some cases, and now especially in a world where the power is shifting more towards the individual contributor, the pressure on the leader to not only be performant in driving the results of others, but being responsible for how they drive this output is absolutely daunting. 

So how do you make this daunting task achievable?  

You’ve got your why you’re going to hold your leaders accountable for their behavior, that’s the crystal clear part. Now let’s talk about the how. 

What gets measured gets managed, and companies are looking for measurement approaches for capturing the sentiment and observational data around the performance of these leaders.  For us at Rhabit Analytics, it means we’re working with more and more companies from long standing awesome brands that look at technology as a key part of solving the problem.  

Adding this new concept of accountability of behavior for managers isn’t taking away some other measurement process, so whatever we add to the mix needs to be as low friction and easy to use as possible, and that’s what we’ve tried to design at Rhabit. 

Something that’s simple, fluid, and flexible that gives leaders access to real time data about how they’re being perceived and how their team feels about the work environment.  Making this easy and maintaining the psychological safety necessary for all this to work is a really daunting task, but what we’ve seen out there in the real world is that it’s very achievable - especially now that there’s all these new intense forces in the talent market.  

The heightened sensitivity around work culture brings the support of the executives in the organization, and it’s that executive support when coupled with well designed tools that delivers a high performance work culture that retains amazing employees - with high performance leaders at the center of the its design, and the only way you can get there is through leaders getting feedback, learning from that feedback, and supporting their growth and development as an organization. 

I genuinely believe that once this state becomes “normal”, this concept of leaders getting feedback from those that work for them, and that the organization takes this data very seriously in terms of how it measures performance, we’ll look back incredulously at why there was ever a time when we didn’t measure leader performance through bottom up feedback. 

To learn more about how Rhabit supports companies with getting their leaders effective, human centered feedback book a time with us today.

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