It’s never easy giving your manager feedback on their performance – especially if your comments could cause offence. In this article, Steve Girdler reveals how best to offer the boss some constructive criticism.
All successful teams and partnerships have one thing in common – they communicate effectively. All forms of communication in business are essential, whether they be instructions, brainstorming, consensus on decisions, updates on progress, or feedback. The latter is perhaps the most fraught with difficulty as feedback needs to be given and received at all levels. Giving feedback to your boss when the message is negative is perhaps the most difficult.
Some enlightened organisations have introduced 360-degree feedback procedures to formalise the process and provide a neutral framework for everyone to benefit from this. The process can also be structured so that the feedback is anonymous. However, without this framework, things can get awkward. So, just how do you approach your boss on a one-to-one level when you want to give them constructive criticism?
Throughout your working life you will work with all sorts of interesting characters. Quite simply, some you will get on with while others you will not. Among these people are your managers. Every employee has a line manager and your relationship with them can be make or break in terms of your quality of work and your motivation.
It can be difficult at work if you feel that your boss has done something wrong and has affected your work. Often, the only option is to let them know how you feel. Firstly, you should establish what you want to achieve from giving constructive criticism to your boss. Do you want them to think more about how they are acting towards you in the workplace? Is there something you would like them to start or stop doing that would make your working life easier? Working out what outcome you want from the situation can make it clearer as to who you should be talking to and what you should be saying.
It is never easy, but the first step is to make sure you have valid reasons. Think about what you feel they are doing that needs to be changed. It can help to write things down to get them straight in your head first. Gather any relevant material such as e-mails or memos that you feel support your case.
With any problems arising from your boss, timing is critical. You should aim to bring up any complaints as soon as reasonably possible. The key, however, is not to get personal. If you are upset or emotional, do not rush in to confronting your boss as emotions often cloud judgement. Wait until you have calmed down and can take a more objective approach to the problem. Use this time to go over the initial steps of establishing where you feel that person is going wrong, and the impact it is having on you or others.
The next step is to arrange a time to speak with your boss. Make sure it is one-to-one and is conducted in private. This allows honest conversations to take place rather than confidential matters being overheard in an open space.
When speaking to them, directness is crucial. Get your grievances over in a succinct and clear manner. Try to avoid mixed messages. Clearly state how they have affected you and why. And remember: supplement negative feedback with positive attributes of your boss to counter an entirely negative conversation.
Be upfront. Convey your feelings with sincerity but not in an emotional manner. Don’t just state the problem; show that you have thought about the issues and suggest some solutions. And don’t be afraid of silence – this can help your boss digest what is being said and how they are going to respond. After you have put across your case, it is up to your boss to decide what they are going to do.
The good news is that in today’s enlightened workplace, you are unlikely to need to confront your boss regularly in this way. Employers – particularly in service industries such as call centres – know that people are the business’s most important asset. With this in mind companies increasingly offer 360-degree reviews, which allow all employees to give feedback regularly to their bosses. This also gives people a say in how they are managed, which in itself is a great motivator.
The key to the success of this type of feedback is frequency. Do it often, both positive and negative, to ensure that your boss is used to it happening. This way, it should not get to a stage where it is affecting your work adversely.
Steve Girdler is director of marketing at recruitment company Kelly Services UK