“What do you think?” my manager asks me after we have finished the presentation. On the one hand, I was honored that she asked me what I thought of our presentation. At the same time, I also felt out of place because I am not used to having my manager ask me for feedback. But then I realized, she was asking because she really wanted to improve herself and because whatever she did reflected on the whole team. She understood that if she really wanted to represent the entire team, she needed to make sure she was at the top of her game.
Giving feedback to someone higher in position is unnerving, to say the least. But if organizations are going to take advantage of the different specialists in their keep, they will have to know how to listen. As someone who is asked to give feedback to their managers, how do you go about it without jeopardizing your career?
First, you need to take into consideration company culture. In some organizations, feedback mechanisms are in place to properly address employee feedback to managers, and to ensure managers do not retaliate against employees who call out their errant conduct. These could come in the form of anonymous e-mails to a centralized whistleblower e-mail so the organization can investigate possible breaches of company policies, or even the law. While some go through a formal grievance mechanism, in which employees are enjoined to file the necessary documents prior to investigation. Because of the organization’s peculiar need to ensure everybody tows the line, these feedback mechanisms are put in place to minimize operational disruptions.
And then there are several organizations who allow transparency and enable a culture where management trusts their leaders to be accountable for their actions, and employees are empowered to approach their leaders with honest feedback. These are organizations that require a high degree of collaboration among their employees and encourage them to maximize and discover their niche by allowing employees to work with different people in the organization. Different organizations need different ways of dealing with employee feedback for leaders in the company. Just make sure that when you do have feedback for your leaders, you will consider how the entire organization will perceive your feedback and how it will be received.
Then you need to consider the person you are talking to. Sometimes, other managers in your organization need honest feedback. True, it might help them manage their people better and help the organization in the long run, but how does giving feedback to this manager help you and the work you do with the department they are leading? Remember, the currency in dealing with other offices or departments comes in the form of established service level agreements and the trust relationship.
Regardless of the working relationship, you also need to consider how you deal with the manager. Some managers are open to feedback and would even invite people to give honest feedback from other people. Others would rather not hear nor see you when they do not need you. Knowing where and how you stand in relation to them will help you decide if you will give feedback—whether sought or not.
Which brings me to what you need to do before offering your feedback: Ask permission. Even if you have an excellent working relationship with the manager, always ask if they are willing to hear feedback from you. You won’t know how your leader would react even if you have been working with them for a long time. Asking permission will also help you cushion what you are about to say, and you can also remind them later that you did ask for permission to give your honest feedback. Just make sure that when you do give feedback, focus on the work. Detach the work from how their decisions made you feel. You do this by focusing their attention to the desired result and how their actions or decisions did not help in achieving the end goal.
But do not just give feedback for its own sake. You also need to provide alternative recommendations. Pointing out lapses and what needs to be improved from a leadership standpoint takes a lot of humility and patience, especially when you have skilled and technically proficient members in your team. After pointing out what could have been improved, provide recommendations based on how you think things could have been done, or ask questions for them to arrive at the same conclusion. This helps your leader understand that you are not just pointing out mistakes per se, but you are thinking of how to improve the overall work of the team. It also provides an opportunity for your leader to observe your decision-making skills and problem-solving abilities.
Start and end your feedback with positive comments. As with any feedback, use the sandwich technique to make it easier for the manager to receive feedback. Start with what they did brilliantly, follow with your feedback, then end with something they did well. This helps the manager become more receptive to your feedback, and helps you frame your comments in a manner that helps them and improve themselves as a leader.
However, when in doubt, do not give feedback. Do not endanger your working relationship with the manager. Instead, look for other venues where you can provide honest feedback like anonymous 360-degree responses if you have them, or by providing recommendations to them through questions. Instead of saying “Because you did not ask the procurement office their process, our materials were delivered late,” you can frame it as: “How about next time, we ask the procurement office their process so we can have our materials on time?” This puts the pressure off on the mistake and shifts the focus on doable actions to improve office processes.
Giving feedback to your manager does not have to be a death sentence to your career. It can provide opportunities for your manager to get to know you better, giving you an avenue to showcase your other skills and abilities. When done suitably and judiciously, it can help improve work relationships, and help make work faster and easier.