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How to Provide Feedback to a Manager 

 September 29, 2020

By  Marie

Creating a transparent and collaborative work environment requires all employees to provide and be receptive to feedback. This includes employees providing feedback to a manager.

But, providing feedback to a manager is a tricky task that many employees are afraid to take on.

This is unfortunate. Being able to provide feedback to a manager is an important skill in managing people upwards.

So, let’s discuss all the aspects of providing feedback to a manager.

Including why it is so critical and how to do it.




Why provide feedback to a manager?

Being receptive to feedback is crucial to career development for everyone. I've discussed in a post about how to improve your work performance.

Providing feedback to a manager is crucial to being able to manage individuals upward. Rather than managers just managing employees downward.

Have the ability to create an environment where a manager is receptive to feedback. Provide feedback in a constructive manner. Therefore, improving the team’s ability to support the business’ objectives

This is an amazing feat. 

It will skyrocket your career and get the attention of individuals above your manager.

Many employees are afraid to provide feedback to a manager

In a study of 1,335 employees, the following were the most common reasons for not providing feedback to a manager

  1. Speaking up would offend their manager
  2. Speaking up would cause their boss to retaliate
  3. They don’t know how to bring it up
  4. Speaking up would hurt their career
  5. The culture doesn’t support people who speak up

Certainly, these concerns are not the case if you broach the topic correctly.

It is important to recognize that in order to be successful, you need to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.

Instead of avoiding challenges and obstacles, you need to embrace them.

The opportunity to provide feedback to a manager, have it be acted upon, and lead the business to more success will be to everyone’s benefit.

It will allow areas of the team’s collaboration, which may be ineffective and impacting your work performance, be improved. 

Certainly, it creates a climate of transparency and trust which leads to stronger and more engaged teams.


When should I give feedback to a manager?

There are critical steps to take before you rush into your manager’s office to provide feedback.

Timing is key to having a productive and effective conversation with your manager about areas for improvement.

First, you need to assess the relationship between yourself and your manager.

So, ask yourself

  • Do I have a relationship built on trust and transparency with my manager?
  • Do I actively ask for feedback on my performance?
  • Does my manager provide me with constructive and actionable feedback?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, these are items you need to address before focusing on providing feedback to your manager.

A relationship built on trust and transparency

In order to have an individual be receptive to your feedback, regardless of whether it is your manager or not, the individual has to trust you.

They have to trust you to be honest and transparent. And, trust that you are looking to improve the situation to benefit the business and team.

So, evaluate your relationship with your manager and determine whether you have built a relationship of mutual respect.

A few questions to self-reflect upon include

  • Do I feel comfortable having difficult and honest conversations with my manager about business projects or work performance?
  • Does my manager consult me for my opinion on projects and decisions?
  • Do I feel that my opinions are heard and seriously considered when I share them with my manager?

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If you do not feel like you have achieved such a relationship with your manager, it is something you should establish prior to focusing on providing feedback.

Too many people discount a manager as “bad” too quickly. They resort to just doing enough to stay in their manager’s good graces to keep their job.

Remember, managers are human.

Having a flawed manager is an opportunity.

An opportunity learn how to manage upward. A critical skill.

So don’t give up on your manager too quickly.

Work to develop a real and honest relationship with your manager.

Thus, be a support system for them. Allow them to echo and bounce ideas off of you.

Be respectful and transparent. Seek their guidance and consider your actions from their point of view. 

Taking these steps will help you to forge a relationship where providing feedback will be a constructive conversation.

On rare occasions, there are managers where such a relationship is an impossibility for a multitude of reasons.

This can include incompatibility of personalities/work styles or even a flat out toxic manager.

In these cases, I don’t recommend proceeding with providing feedback to a manager. 

It will only further strain a relationship as it is unlikely that the feedback will be taken constructively.

Having a manager you can trust and learn from, in my opinion, is the most important thing about a job. They are your lifeline to career development.

So if you are in a situation where a strong relationship with your manager is not possible, consider transitioning to a different team or employer.

Do I actively ask for feedback on my performance?

Before you provide feedback to a manager, you must demonstrate your own capacity for self-improvement and using feedback constructively.

So get comfortable ACTIVELY asking for feedback from your manager. 

Then demonstrate that you take this feedback and tailor your performance based on it. 

This will further forge trust and transparency in an employee-manager relationship. 

Does my manager provide me with constructive and actionable feedback?

The type of feedback your manager provides will provide you a sense of the relationship.

Is the feedback your manager provides honest and insightful? Is the feedback on behaviors you recognize require improvement?

If your manager takes time to truly evaluate your performance and provide constructive feedback, it signals a desire to improve team performance. And help you develop as a professional.

A manager that is dedicated to improving team performance is more open to self-improvement.

Summary:

  • Make sure you have a strong and open relationship with your manager prior to providing feedback
  • Actively ask for feedback and implement it before looking to provide feedback to a manager
  • Evaluate whether your manager is committed to improving team performance based on the feedback they provide you

What feedback should I give my manager?

Most employees that want to provide feedback to a manager want to do so because they have grievances.

They are frustrated about some aspect of their manager. 

They hope that if they call their manager’s attention to it, it will be fixed. So they can go about their work less frustrated.

But, this is not the feedback you want to provide to a manager.

So, take time to truly outline what feedback you want to provide.

In general, feedback should be actionable behaviors that if adjusted will result in better individual or team performance. Improved team performance that ultimately leads to better business performance.

When determining what the feedback you want to provide is, evaluate it from the business’ perspective rather than your own.

What does the business need in order to be more successful?

What behaviors does your manager need to adjust in order to better support the business’ ability to meet its strategic objectives?

Framing your thought process and delivery around the business’ success will ensure you are providing feedback that is not emotionally charged.

It will be constructive feedback.

Remember, the business’ success is determined by the talent, productivity, and efficiency of its employees.

Constructive feedback to a manager should not be focused on your personal gain. 

It can, and often does, impact your individual work performance. 

That's a consequential benefit of better supporting the business.


What is an example of constructive feedback?

You may have a list of complaints about your boss. But remember, complaints are not constructive.

That is the type of “feedback” that elicits a negative response rather than improvement. 

Instead, consider the following to build you feedback around:

  • Needing more guidance from your manager
  • Requiring more training to develop your skills
  • More visibility into an aspect of your manager’s work (e.g. decision making)
  • More communication from your manager to understand priorities
  • Desiring more ownership of a project and less oversight
  • Workload is too high to support desired timelines
  • Asking for more support from your manager during conflict resolution 

This list of feedback is general. It is derived from the most common “wants” from employees. 

Remember, you will need to outline specific examples and specific solutions for your situation.

More on this below.


How do I give feedback to my manager?

You've solidified your relationship and determined the feedback you want to provide.

It’s time to have the conversation.

Outline positive feedback

It is best to start the conversation by recognizing what is working. What was effective in the situation or project you will be providing feedback on.

This is not about sugar coating your constructive feedback. Rather, it's setting the tone of the conversation.

Consider the following when determining the positive feedback you’d like to provide

  • Where did your manager's leadership in the situation benefit performance or meeting objectives?
  • What do you hope will remain the same in a similar situation in the future?
  • Provide recognition of these items to your manager.

Example of Positive Feedback to a Manager

“I really appreciate your input on the project proposal. It provided clear guidance on what the critical milestones are for the business. This has really helped the team focus priorities.”

Frame your constructive feedback around business performance

You've provide recognition about what is working.

Now it’s time to discuss what is not.

Again, you want to frame your feedback around behaviors that your manager can change. 

Most importantly, focus on changing behaviors that will result improved ability to support the business objectives.

So keep the focus on the business, rather than yourself and the manager as individuals. This will allow the conversation to stay productive and professional. 

Certainly, it will significantly lower any risk that the conversation turns personal or emotional.

Example of Constructive Feedback to a Manager

“I am glad my market research deck was helpful for leadership. I think having me involved in future conversations about this research would be beneficial. There are nuances in the data that I’d like to share so that the most informed decision is made for the business”

Be specific

When you are providing any feedback it’s of utmost importance that you are very specific.

Talk about specific situations, behaviors, and actions that you have observed.

Recognize specific results, whether positive or negative, that occurred due to specific actions.

Then link these specific examples to overall business performance.

Firstly, being specific in your language allows the listener, your manager, to better understand your point of view. 

Secondly, it also allows them to consider their own perspective in those situations and whether your solution is reasonable.

Finally, specific examples keeps the conversation focused on actions rather than the individual. 

General statements such as “I need more support from you” can be perceived harshly. 

These statements can touch on the individual’s core identity, which is one of the most valuable things to a person

If they perceive themselves as a supportive manager, a general statement may cause them to be defensive.

Instead, be specific. 

Example of Specific Feedback to a manager

“I have had a difficult time in obtaining visibility for this project. This project would be a key component is supporting the business’ strategic objective of bringing innovative products to market first. I would really appreciate your support in moving this project from concept to feasibility by discussing it with leadership.”

Do you see the difference?

It is focused on the business. It asks for a specific behavioral change.

Provide a solution

There is little benefit to providing constructive feedback without providing a proposed solution.

If you are seeking to provide constructive feedback, there is an outcome that you want.

Be sure to verbalize this.

Just like your feedback, your solution needs to be specific.

For example, don’t just say “Can you provide me more training on X skill?”

Instead, ask to attend specific training that you believe would benefit your ability to support the business.

Recognize Your Manager’s Point of View

The value in being specific is that your manager can address your observations and proposed solutions with their own point of view.

There may be very good reasons why they chose to behave the way they did, which you may not have factored into your analysis.

Therefore, your proposed solution may not be one that can be implemented for reasons you are not aware.

Your manager will share their point of view. It is important that you listen and recognize it.

Above all, if your manager brings up points that you have not considered have an honest and open-minded conversation.

Never agree for the sake of agreement.

If you have a differing point of view, discuss it.

The ability to have these types of conversations is the large benefit of having an open and honest relationship with your manager.

Above all, the goal should always be to find a solution that is beneficial to the business and one that works for all individuals involved.

Be gracious and professional

You have worked hard to develop a relationship with your manager that is open, transparent and built on trust.

This is incredibly valuable to you as a professional and employee.

These challenging conversations, providing constructive feedback, are incredibly valuable as well.

You need to be able to maintain the relationship you have developed through these tougher conversations.

Therefore, it is so important to stay professional. And to be grateful for the position you are in.

It is always a good idea to close your conversation with gratitude.

Example of closing feedback discussion with gratitude

“I am really grateful for the ability to have an open and transparent conversation with you about these items.”

Speak from your perspective

Always speak from your perspective.

Do not speak for your team or your team members. If they have feedback to provide to your manager, encourage them to have their own private conversations.

You can certainly outline improvements that you believe will impact overall team performance, and not just your own individual performance.

But these should be generated by you and no one else.

Follow Up

As you wrap up your conversation, try to obtain clear action items that you and your manager will work on to get to the agreed solution.

And follow up on it.

Use your one on ones to touch base on progress towards the solution you’ve agreed upon.

And remember, providing feedback to a manager should be an ongoing process.

The more often you have conversations like this, the less awkward they are. They become a natural part of your professional relationship.

That is to say, having consistent and frequent conversations where feedback is provided in both directions results in a more effective team.

And that is good for business.

Summary:

  • Outline positive feedback
  • Frame your constructive feedback around business performance
  • Provide a solution
  • Be specific
  • Recognize Your Manager’s Point of View
  • Be gracious and professional
  • Speak from your perspective
  • Follow Up

Things to avoid when giving feedback to a manager

In order for feedback to resonate, you need to avoid inciting feeling of defensiveness in your manager. 

This is easier than most people believe.

Avoid doing the following

  • Using emotionally charged language (e.g. “I can’t do my job like this”)
  • Complaining about the difficulty of situations for you
  • Being vague in the feedback you provide (e.g. I need more training vs. I’d like to attend X training program)
  • Waiting too long after a specific situation to provide feedback on it
  • Taking too long to get to the point
  • Being unprepared
  • Failing to connect how addressing your feedback would add value to the business

Examples of how to provide feedback to a manager

Situation: Not having enough visibility into decision making

“Achieving the product launch milestone recently was a testament of our team’s commitment and close collaboration.


I do believe that having more visibility into the decision making process and when leadership is considering to pivot, such as when they recently moved all resources from Project X to Project Y, will allow me to better focus my work on the business needs.


I recognize you may not be able to always provide me this information, but any additional visibility you can provide would be really beneficial to my ability to support the objectives.


Can we spend time at our weekly one on ones so you can provide me an update of discussions occurring at this level?”

Situation: Too high of a workload is risking project milestones

“The business’ commitment to such a diverse range of projects is exciting both for the team as well as the business’ stability for the future. I do have concerns that with the additional workload, we are spread very thin. 


Based on the project plan that the team has compiled, without an additional 2 programmer headcount we are unlikely to be able to meet the current timeline. I propose we either review the budget to add this additional headcount or shift the product launch back by 6 months.”

Situation: Not receiving enough guidance from your manager

“I am very grateful for your mentorship over the course of Project X. 


I’ve noticed you have been increasingly busy recently with the upcoming launch, which I recognize is incredibly critical to the business. Since we are not able to informally touch base like we use to, I would like to schedule an hour of your time weekly. 


I want to make sure that we continue to be aligned on decisions that are being made on Project X. I’d also would like to get your input on approaches the team is taking during product design. 


What day would be best for you?”

Take note of the following in these examples:

  • Starts with positive feedback
  • Provides specific examples of constructive feedback
  • Outlines a specific proposed solution
  • Stays focused on the business, not the individual’s qualities

So those are my tips on how to provide feedback to a manager

Have you provided feedback to your manager? How did it go?

Let me know below!

Check out these other articles:

21 Most Effective Ways to Improve Work Performance

How to Write a Professional Email: 11 Useful Tips

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How to Provide Feedback to a Manager

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