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Can Upward Feedback Fuel More Employee Engagement? by @HRTMExec


The problem of employee engagement is no longer just hypothetical; it’s a reality that Gallup polls have proven. The cold, hard truth is that the majority of U.S. employees are not engaged, with Gallup’s poll showing that 51% of employees were not engaged in 2014 and 17.5% were “actively disengaged” in 2014.


We’ve discussed the possibility that the Information Revolution is part of the problem. Could it be that asking employees for more feedback would improve employee engagement? Terrence Seamon, a business consultant with years of experience helping organizations develop stronger leaders, thinks it could certainly help. “There’s a paradigm shift,” Seamon says, “and managers need to look in the mirror and ask themselves, ‘How do I shift with the times?’”


This shift is nothing new to Seamon, since he first saw it in the 1980s when self-directed teams made an impact in the HR world, causing people to wonder if the role of managers and directors was going to go away. The role didn’t go away then, and Seamon stresses that it won’t go away now. Instead, the role is morphing, and Seamon points out that managers need to be thinking about how they can best support those under them.


In the 1990s, before “Employee Engagement” was ever a buzz word, Seamon was rolling out Upward Feedback questionnaires at a major telecommunications organization. The result of these feedback cycles put that telecommunications organization ahead of the curve when employee disengagement became part of the HR vocabulary.


Through Upward Feedback, managers and other leaders can get a clear picture of what they’re doing well and what they’re struggling with. This starts with a question that former New York City Mayor Ed Koch made famous: “How am I doing?” According to Seamon, more managers need to be asking that question and listening carefully to the answer.


“The first place to start,” Seamon says, “Is to look in the mirror and ask ‘Am I really ready for this? Am I really open to the feedback that my team will give me about what I’m doing?’” A manager who isn’t ready and open to that feedback, according to Seamon, will just be wasting time and resources.


Once the manager is ready for the feedback, Seamon points out that it is essential to keep it simple and streamlined. Seamon follows Marc Effron’s “One Page Talent Management” strategy of keeping the design of the questionnaire instrument itself as simple and streamlined as possible. Effron even suggests keeping these devices limited to a single page. This simplicity is also why Seamon prefers Upward Feedback to 360s: “360s are humongous things that give the recipient a huge dose of feedback that the recipient is overwhelmed by. Upward Feedback is very streamlined and to the point, with the people who are reporting to you telling you how you are managing them.”


By getting to know what the employees think of their leaders, those leaders can better support their employees. If more managers practiced and grew from Upward Feedback cycles, then maybe, just maybe, employee engagement would rise and the majority of employees would be engaged instead of disengaged.

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  1. Thanks for this article, Jeff. To keep Upward Feedback elegantly simple, try these three questions: 1) How am I, your supervisor, helping you to be effective? 2) How am I not helping you? 3) Is there anything else you’d like me to know?

  2. Jeff Butts

    Thanks for the feedback, Terry! I love your idea about the questions to ask; those are some fantastic questions and could really get the ball rolling on improving employee/supervisor relations and engagement.