Performance Reviews

How to Write an Upward Review — Plus Examples

November 4, 2022
November 7, 2023
Deanna deBara
Lattice Team

As an employee, you expect to receive feedback from your higher-ups, including during performance reviews. But what you might not expect is the opportunity to deliver that same feedback in the opposite direction.

“It is the social norm in most organizations that feedback goes from more senior employees to more junior employees,” said Belinda Hoole, a corporate culture strategist and cofounder of culture consultancy SonderWorx. “Upward reviews provide a structure where more junior employees provide feedback to their managers or other employees in more senior positions.”

Upward reviews offer a great opportunity for employees to deliver feedback, insights, and, in some cases, constructive criticism, to the person or people they report to, whether that’s a manager, supervisor, or company leadership. But if you’ve never written an upward review, it can be hard to know where to start, what to include, and how to write a review that’s going to create the results you’re looking for.

Here’s everything you need to know to write an effective upward review — plus some examples to help get you started.

What Are Upward Reviews?

Upward reviews provide an opportunity to share your feedback up the corporate ladder and deliver feedback to the people who manage you, either directly or indirectly. They “occur when an organization solicits feedback from a manager’s subordinates or team members,” explained Merideth J. Thompson, PhD, professor in the Department of Management at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. “In other words, subordinates have the opportunity to evaluate the performance…of their direct manager or supervisor.” Depending on the organization, upward reviews may also offer you the opportunity to give feedback to company leadership, like the CEO or director of your department.

This type of review “can be done in a variety of ways — either informal feedback requested by a manager in a face-to-face meeting, or very formal, such as a part of a 360 review conducted by an outside consultant or entity where subordinates, peers, and supervisors are asked to provide an assessment of a manager’s performance,” said Diane Gayeski, PhD, Professor of Strategic Communications at Ithaca College and principal of communications consulting company Gayeski Analytics.

Why Are Upward Reviews Important?

Upward reviews are important for several reasons, beginning with giving managers clarity around how their employees view them. They “give managers the opportunity to understand how they themselves and their leadership style are being perceived by their team,” Hoole said.

Often, how a manager thinks they’re being perceived and how they’re actually being perceived are two different things. “You can’t change something if you don’t know it’s broken,” said Roberta Matuson, President of talent consultancy Matuson Consulting and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around. “Upward reviews often provide leaders with insights that they are not aware of.”

For example, “a manager might feel that they’re very collaborative and open, but employees may feel intimidated by certain aspects of their behavior that restrict their willingness to contribute new ideas,” Gayeski said. 

Upward reviews are also important because they provide honest feedback about a manager or supervisor’s performance, even when it might be perceived as challenging or negative; that kind of feedback can be hard to come by as a manager progresses in their career.

“These are also important because as individuals move up the corporate ladder, they are less and less likely to receive constructive feedback and more likely to be surrounded by ‘yes people,’” Thompson noted.

Finally, upward reviews are important because they give employees the opportunity to voice their opinion about managers. When that opinion is taken seriously, not only can it help improve the manager’s performance, but it can also help improve the employees’ experience.

“The person giving the feedback has an opportunity to help their supervisor or manager become a better leader,” Matuson said.

“When people are consulted for their viewpoints — and [shown] their opinions matter — you foster a sense of belonging that drives engagement and inspires employees to care more deeply about your organization,” added Hoole.

“As individuals move up the corporate ladder, they are less and less likely to receive constructive feedback and more likely to be surrounded by ‘yes people.’”

4 Tips for Writing Upward Reviews — With Examples

Here are four best practices for writing effective upward reviews, plus examples you can refer to as you write your own.

1. Include the right information.

The first thing you’ll want to consider when writing an upward review is what information to include. Many employees use upward reviews as a platform to vent their frustrations about their boss. And while an upward review is an appropriate place to voice concerns about a manager’s performance (constructively), if you want the review to effect positive change — both for yourself and your manager — it’s not the only information you’ll want to include.

“Some subordinates can see the upward review process as an opportunity to gripe or slam a boss,” Thompson pointed out. “[And] constructive feedback absolutely has its place. However, it’s also critical that a leader have a sense of what they are doing well — so they can keep doing it — or what they are doing that they think may be helpful, but actually is a waste of their time and energy.”

According to Thompson, effective upward reviews address three questions:

  • What should the manager start doing?
  • What should the manager stop doing?
  • What should the manager keep doing?

By including all three of these elements in your upward review, you increase the likelihood that your manager will keep doing the things you want them to do, stop doing the things you don’t want them to, and start doing new things that you feel have been missing in your current working relationship.

What This Looks Like in Action

Jake’s weekly project meetings have been extremely effective in getting myself and my colleagues on the same page about the status of our current projects and how we need to move forward. In addition to the weekly meetings, I think it would be great if he could send a follow-up email to all the attendees outlining the upcoming week’s responsibilities and tasks, and who is responsible for what.

While our weekly project meetings have been super helpful, I haven’t found Jake’s individual morning check-ins to be as helpful. I find that I don’t have much new individual news or progress to share on a daily basis; instead, I think it would be helpful to shift our daily check-ins to a weekly format, similar to the project meetings.

2. Give specific examples.

When you’re writing an upward review, you don’t want to be vague or leave anything up for interpretation; otherwise, your manager might not get the message you’re trying to deliver — and your review may not drive the results you hope to see.

Instead, “be as specific as possible,” advised Gayeski. “Give examples that are as specific as you feel comfortable.”

The more specific you are in your feedback, the better your manager will be able to understand and apply it — and the more effective the review will be as a result.

What This Looks Like in Action

Example 1:

I felt extremely supported by Kylie when I first joined the team. She spent a full day walking me through the team’s processes and systems, and then reached out every morning and afternoon of my first week to ask if I had any questions or if there was anything I needed to be successful.

Example 2:

Before I had to take time off to have surgery, Kylie met with me to review all of my tasks and assignments, then told me how she was reallocating those tasks and assignments while I was gone. This allowed me to take time off to rest and recover without having to worry about work piling up while I was out of the office, which made me feel very supported.

3. Be specific about what you’d like to see change.

Giving specific examples in your upward reviews is important — and this goes for being specific about what you’d like to see change, too.

“When writing an upward review for a manager…be clear about what you would have liked to have had happen rather than what did happen,” Hoole recommended.

What This Looks Like in Action

Example 1:

During a weekly meeting last month, Max made a comment about my presentation being sloppy in front of the entire team, which made me feel embarrassed and put on the spot. Next time, I would appreciate it if Max talked to me privately instead about any concerns he has about my performance or presentation quality

Example 2:

Katrina typically ends our team meetings as soon as the last team member has shared their contributions. However, I often have questions that have come up over the course of the meeting, so I would love it if she could add 10 minutes to the end of every meeting for Q&A before we wrap things up.

4. Use “I” statements.

When you’re crafting an upward review, it’s important to remember that you’re delivering your thoughts, feedback, insights, and criticisms; you’re not sharing indisputable facts, and you’re also not speaking on behalf of your coworkers, colleagues, or anyone but yourself. That’s why, when writing an upward review, it’s important to “use ‘I’ sentences about what you perceive or feel,” Gayeski said.

What This Looks Like in Action

Instead of making generalizations or assumptions about your manager, share your feedback in the context of your own personal feelings and experience.

For example, rather than making a generalized statement like “Tim is a micromanager,” reframe it to highlight your own experience using “I” statements, like:

I feel like Tim often over-involves himself in my work. I have observed that he looks over my shoulder often throughout the day and will comment on my work as I’m doing it, instead of allowing me to do the work in my own way and on my own time. I feel micromanaged when he does this, and also like he doesn’t trust me or my ability to do my work effectively.

Upward reviews are a valuable tool for employees to share their feedback and effect positive change in their managers, leaders, and organizations. Use these best practices to craft effective upward reviews — and help improve your manager’s performance and your everyday experience at work in the process.

Need more help writing an effective upward review — or any type of review? Check out Lattice’s
Performance Review Template Bank to find all the templates you’ll need come performance review time.