4 Questions to consider when you want to give feedback to your boss

As most organizations find themselves in the midst of the Great Resignation, employee feedback has become more important than ever. A recent article from the Achievers Workforce Institute (AWI) indicates that 52% of the American workforce is looking for a new job. In a CPA Canada article from September 2021 on employee retention, that number is 42% in Canada. We were quoted, emphasizing the importance of soliciting employee feedback and acting upon it

Managers are failing to act upon employee feedback - or avoiding feedback altogether.

The AWI article indicates that while 60% of leaders have asked for feedback on how to improve the human experience of work, the majority of leaders do nothing with that feedback. Further compounding this problem, our own experience shows that the number one question many employees have is, “how do I give feedback to a boss who doesn’t want it?” This question comes up in our leadership development workshops and coaching, regardless of the topic we start with. 

So, how do you give feedback to a leader who doesn’t want it? 

There are four questions to ask yourself before you embark upon providing feedback:

  1. How important is it for this leader to receive feedback?
  2. Is the leader willing to receive feedback and act upon it?
  3. Do you see opportunity on this team? 
  4. Is there somebody else who could provide this feedback?

1. How important is it for this leader to receive feedback?

We encounter many examples of team leaders whose actions or words create a poor human experience of work. One example from my coaching involved a manager who was openly hostile to employees in a team meeting, subjecting a few individuals to an expletive-laden tirade. The team had also been losing employees at a staggering rate.

Use your organizational values to assess importance. In this example, it’s safe to assume that the senior leader was not living the values of the organization, resulting in a poor human experience of work. The company was losing people quickly, so accepting this behaviour as the status quo was not an option. Continuing this way will actually alter how people understand the organization’s values. Clearly something has to be said or done. 

Alternatively, in less significant situations where a leader’s actions are bothering you but they generally live the organization’s values, it might be something that you can let pass or hold for future opportunities to provide feedback. 

2. Is the leader willing to receive feedback and act upon it? 

If you have a situation where there is a significant misalignment between the leader’s behaviour and your organizational values, it’s time to assess the leader’s willingness to receive and act upon feedback. Their willingness to act will help you determine your feedback approach.

If you believe this leader is willing to receive feedback, then you are the right person to provide feedback. This takes courage the first time you do it, but great leaders are able to both provide and seek feedback. People have had a lot of success leveraging our (free) 3 Story Feedback™️ method. This structured process helps you prepare your feedback in a respectful way that will deepen your relationship and support this leader’s development.

If you believe this leader will be unreceptive to feedback or if you believe providing feedback will create negative consequences for you, then you have an important decision to make. This is where many people feel stuck and start to look for work elsewhere. I have empathy for your situation. I would also like you to consider two final questions before you simply jump ship.

3. Do you see opportunity on this team?

This is an important question. While leaving an organization seems like a quick solution, research indicates that there is a risk of finding yourself in the same situation at another company. If you truly care about the colleagues you’d leave behind (with this poor team leader) and have the opportunity to do meaningful work, this is your own leadership moment. 

Are you willing to try one last thing before you leave? What do you have to lose if you were going to quit anyway? If you choose to stay on the team we think it is really important to see if you can find an ally to help alleviate the situation. 

4. Who else can provide the feedback?

If you are willing to step up on behalf of everybody, the final question is who would be in a position to provide this feedback to the team leader. An obvious choice would be that person’s manager or somebody you trust in Human Resources. It could be any other person with sufficient power or authority to have an impact. 

You are looking for an ally who truly cares about your potential departure from the organization. The most powerful aspect of your situation is your pending decision to leave. That gives you some currency – especially if you are a key contributor on the team. The current problems with staff retention in many organizations, increases the likelihood that somebody in a position to help would be concerned about your decision to leave and do something about it.

Future Exit Interview

We recommend providing this feedback in the form of a ‘future exit interview’. Leverage the same 3 Story Feedback™️ method to organize your final opportunity to give feedback. Instead of presenting this feedback to the team leader, you would present this feedback to your ally as your case for leaving if nothing is done about the team leader’s behaviour. Hopefully this person will help you find a path forward (aka the Better Future Story in our feedback method). Perhaps this person has the power to commission a culture assessment or a leadership 360 for this team leader.

It might be time to leave.

If this “ally” is also unwilling to act upon the feedback, it says a great deal about why this team is in such a difficult situation. At this point, I would recommend you transfer to another team or leave the organization altogether. In larger organizations, you might be able to leave your team and find a better situation elsewhere. In a smaller organization, this leader will likely have a pervasive, negative impact on the entire organization. For your own psychological well being, I would recommend leaving as quickly as reasonably possible.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff is the Founder & CEO of SupportingLines. He is also a certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, seasoned C-suite business leader and yoga instructor.

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