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Managers at least are saying the right thing in that they appreciate and welcome feedback from their teams or from their direct reports. Of course this is the right thing to say and it is sort of safe to say because most employees would never venture down this path anyways. Why? Well, it has something to do with our addiction to food, clothing and shelter to put it honestly. Why risk your livelihood to give your boss feedback? Is it really worth the risk?
Well, your boss won’t be able to change their behaviour or solve a problem they haven’t heard about, true? If you don’t speak up and you see things happening which are not good and affecting you and perhaps others in a negative way, things will likely not change on their own. Eventually you will start to not feel a part of the organization because your personal values are being tested in a negative way or things which should be happening to help the company are simply never going to happen. People (bosses) are quite often unaware of their own behaviour patterns and how this affects others. Behaviour changes occur when people (bosses in this case) realize the negative consequences of their continued behaviour patterns. (how many people weren’t washing their hands for a full 20 seconds before scientists convinced us we need to do it to save lives, even our own?)
Now, BEFORE, you decide to give your boss feedback, do your homework, this is a case where their really is no substitute for good preparation. So, how do you prepare? First, you must understand your boss somewhat by knowing how they think, behave, value certain things. Are they stressed and high strung or relaxed and confident? What kind of relationship do you have with your boss? There are other means to provide feedback rather than doing it in person directly. Often 360 review processes provide this opportunity or if you have a HR department, you can ask advice or sometimes the HR person can act on your behalf if they deem this appropriate. When I was HR Director in different companies I would explain to employees who came seeking help that they had 3 options, they could vent with me and get it off their chest and do not provide feedback, (not recommended) they could seek my advice and do it themselves or in certain cases of serious infractions, I would offer to do it on their behalf, sometimes anonymous, sometimes not depending on the situation and the people involved. How was I able to pull this off and act on their behalf? – see below.
It pains me somewhat to say this is a HR professional, but you truly need to think about the consequences here. If your boss shows narcissist tendencies, do you really want to risk your career by providing direct feedback? Is it worth the risk? What is your estimation of the likelihood of your boss accepting/agreeing/changing their behaviour because of feedback you provide? Get the picture???
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR GOOD PREPARATION. To be well prepared for offering feedback, it involves having proper data and examples of the effect of their actions or behaviour on you and/or others on the team or in the department. Be careful to not use words like, “you never” or “you always”. Both of these words are strong and often don’t reflect the real situation and taken out of context can really rub your boss the wrong way, even though they may not show this to you in the moment. (but you may end up paying the price) Of course we should not in any circumstances provide boss feedback/criticism in public with or without the boss present. In private is where you do this. If your company has a 1:1 process, often the script is designed for the boss to ask you for direct feedback, which is good but you still need to be careful.
In my role as VPHR, a part of my job was to provide job performance feedback to my peers, other VP’s. To do this, I learned a valuable technique from an executive coach I used, and this was to first ask permission to give feedback. I did this in advance of providing constructive feedback or what some call constructive criticism. I would say to VP’s well in advance of any feedback I had or didn’t have, “I travel around the company a lot and talk to a lot of people, and if I ever hear your name come up in conversations about how you are perceived or your department or personal job performance, are you interested in hearing it from me?” In 100% of the times I asked this, the VP answered “yes”. Ah, ha, I have now been ‘invited in” to offer up feedback. This was also useful in advocating for employees in providing their bosses feedback, as I would always remind them of the conversation we had that they told me they were interested in hearing feedback I may have heard in conversations. So, you can do this as an employee too. This is not the panacea of providing feedback, but believe me it really helps, it removes resistance and allows you to say what you want to say in an environment where the feedback was asked for and not provided unwanted. BIG difference here.
It is generally always better to provide boss feedback in person, however there are times when an email properly worded is a good backup when you have all the facts correct. You can start off by stating that your sole purpose in offering constructive feedback is to help the company. Be prepared that your boss may not agree with your feedback and in some cases they will agree and actually thank you for it or they may seem to agree but their subsequent behaviour toward you will indicate another story altogether.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions, how can we improve if we don’t know what the markers are? One of the very best ways to give boss feedback is to discuss it beforehand as a team or department. In achievement oriented cultures, feedback is a requirement and employees are trained in how to give it and also receive it up and down the organization. When this happens, wow, things can really happen in an organization. Bottomline here, assess the risk, be prepared, where possible ‘get invited in”, understand the possible consequences. When feedback is not provided, don’t expect things to change!
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