“As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”

Josh Billings, quoted in Evan Esar, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (1949)

One of the most successful actions I’ve taken as a supervisor is to regularly ask my employees for feedback on my performance in robust and meaningful ways. In 2022, I enrolled in a leadership course at MPOW that required my direct reports, peers, and supervisor to assess my leadership skills. The results provided me with invaluable information about where I needed to improve as a manager, but also where I could successfully lean into certain aptitudes for leadership. I am incredibly grateful to have had that experience and for the time my colleagues took to answer the survey questions.

Prior to that, I had already implemented an internal mechanism for upward feedback. In 2020, I wanted to ask my team to evaluate my performance. However, I knew two things to be true: (1) It would be impossible for me not to know who submitted feedback (my team is only three people in addition to myself); and (2) not every person on my team had had the same experience with me as a manager. Even the most honest of my employees would likely hold some things back. And I don’t blame them: managers have direct influence over their employees’ work-life and salary. But my team all agreed that some mechanism for upward feedback was necessary, provided it offered a space for honest discussion and psychological safety.

To tackle both these issues, I developed a simple system for upward feedback that provided me with the information I needed about my performance, while still allowing my employees to maintain their anonymity. It also had the added benefit of being a team-building exercise, since they could compare notes on their different experiences of me as a manager. As one of my employees noted, “We were able to ‘norm’ our experiences of you as a manager against our own biases, experiences, and preferences.” The end results was an action plan for my performance (which I tasked myself with responding to and further developing), in much the same way that I do for them during annual reviews each year. 

I’ve posted the entire tool below. You are welcome to use and adapt! (CC-BY-SA)

My department’s upward feedback tool 2020

We all have blind spots that we are not aware of. We all make mistakes. The primary purpose of this exercise is to help me identify my blind spots as a supervisor/manager and address them proactively. Additionally, this exercise will help me identify what you think works well so I can continue to enhance those actions.

As the lead for our department, I want us to be effective, both individually and (more importantly) collectively. This means we need to be more than just a group of coordinated parts. We have to be an integrated, mutually beneficial team. It takes effort to be a team: we share the best and worst of each of us. So it takes some amount of consensus about our shared goals and experiences in order to keep moving forward.

To that end, I’d like to hear feedback from you, whether it be about my managerial skills or work in general. This is meant to be both an assessment mechanism and a team-building activity.

What I will do

Once you provide me with feedback, I will provide you with a written response to each point raised and, where possible, I will tell you what actions I will take to address your recommendations. If I am not able to take action, I will provide an explanation for that.

What you will do

You will work together to draft a single assessment document, no more than 3 pages if possible. It should be authored collectively and anonymously. Any recommendations or comments should be agreed upon by the entire group. Strive for 100% consensus.

In that way, (1) I will not be able to assign any comments to a single person and (2) you can find common ground among your colleagues both in your assessment of me and your recommendations for future actions.

Here are the questions you should try to answer:

  1. What do you see as your supervisor’s greatest strengths?
  2. What area(s) do you think your supervisor should develop in order to be more effective?
  3. Are there other comments about your supervisor that you would like to share?

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

What I’m reading

100 things I know by Mari Andrew

I especially like #20. I’ve stopped trying to kill spiders in the house and instead try to help them find their way out. I also say “good morning” and “excuse me, friends” to the bees each day when I water my garden. There’s something profound in acknowledging you’re not the most important creature in the room. 

Proof You Can Do Hard Things by Nat Eliason

“The ability to do hard things is perhaps the most useful ability you can foster in yourself or your children. And proof that you are someone who can do them is one of the most useful assets you can have on your life resume.”

Reading Well by Simon Sarris

“Reading is letting someone else model the world for you.”

Garden update

This is the last of the summer harvest. My tomatoes, beans, and corn have mostly dried up or gone to seed. There are still peppers and butternut squash that could outlast the month. Even one of my watermelon vines is making a Hail Mary effort to survive. But now is the time to start planting winter crops. I already have cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and celery seeds in starter pots.

Links to the past

Overheard online

“I love public libraries not just because of what they’ve done for me personally, but because they are little socialist oases in the capitalist desert hellscape of twenty-first century America.”

Karawynn Long on “The Coming Enshittification of Public Libraries