Step 1 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Prepare for it and you might get some insights

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The Manager by Designsm blog advocates for a new field, “Management Design,” which systemically attempts to create great managers by design rather than by accident.  I have recently run a series of articles examining a flaw in the current management design:  Managers don’t receive specific and immediate feedback on how they are doing with people management.

The series concluded the best candidates for providing feedback are the manager’s employees themselves.  However, this has its risks, since the less artful the feedback the more dangerous the situation for the employee.

It is perhaps best if the manager ask for feedback from their employees, and this blog provides tips for how to do this.  However, whether or not feedback is requested, employees must be careful in how they provide feedback to their managers.   In the coming articles I’ll walk you through the steps to give feedback to your manager.

Today I’ll provide step one in helping employees provide feedback to their manager:  Prepare for providing feedback.

If you are going to take the step to provide feedback to your manager on how they are doing (and we know that many employees desperately want to do this), whether or not the feedback was asked for by the manager, your first step is to systemically get ready to do so.  If you go into a conversation unprepared, you are likely to make mistakes in giving the feedback, and it won’t go well.

So where to start?  My first recommendation for preparing is to create a performance log of the manager.  In this blog, I advocate that managers create a performance log that tracks behaviors of their employees.  There are many benefits for doing this.  Similar benefits apply to employees who creating a log on their managers. Creating a log does sound a bit like performing surveillance, but if it is used with positive intent—to understand and address what the actual behaviors are that the manager can change, then it has the potential for good and clarity of thought.

Here is a proposed log for an employee can use in a spreadsheet to track the manager’s behavior:

Item num-ber Date Name Title Con-text Ob-served be-havior Impact of observed behavior Strategy to address this
1
2
3

For details and examples about what each of these column headings mean, see my article on Important fields that an employee performance log should contain—beginner. Note that you should not plan to show it to the manager, but if it does accidentally get into the hands of the manager, the more behavior-based it is and focused on improving the situation it is, the less the risk if it falls into the wrong hands.

Here are some reasons to keep a log on your manager’s behaviors:

  1. Specific incidents are recorded and remembered. No more vague recollections, you now can remember the incident with precision.
  2. Forces you to describe things in more behavior-based terms.  This makes sure you aren’t making generalizations or sweeping value judgments.  It focuses on particular incidents and your interpretation of the impact of these incidents.
  3. It’s cathartic.  Even if you don’t ever actually use the information on the log for direct performance feedback to your manager, the very act of documenting it gives you an outlet for your frustration, and the act of putting it in behavior-based terms (and likely away from value-judgment terms, such as, “My boss sucks”) keeps the focus on your boss’s specific behaviors, which actually have hope for changing over time (really, there is hope).
  4. It provides analysis.   Once you’ve documented, say, 10 items on the log, you’ll start to see patterns.  What it is that the boss is doing that actually is causing problems will be better understood.  You’ll then be able to focus on these things, rather than general attitude of, “I hate everything he does and everything about him” that a difficult boss often conjures.
  5. With analysis comes strategy.  OK, so maybe you’re not ready to give specific and immediate feedback on a boss’s performance.  I understand – there are serious risks in doing this.  Now, with the log and the analysis that comes with it, you may come up with strategies for addressing the boss’s behavior’s indirectly:
    1. Change your own behaviors: If your boss yells at you every time you are late for a meeting, perhaps you should try to get to the meeting on time, or communicate why you are late, or try communicating your likely arrival time in advance.  It may not be appropriate for the manager to yell, but if you can cut off this source of yelling, then do it.
    2. Change your own language: If you use language that sets your boss off into a rage, such as “I can’t get that done,” then experiment with new language:  “I can get that done if we take something off my plate.  Will you help me prioritize?”
    3. Change the moments/way you interact with your boss: If the negative behaviors happen in certain contexts (i.e., late in the day, right after the manager of managers’ meeting), you might want to figure out a way to get out of the line of fire during those moments.  Or, perhaps you might start to give the boss information prior to that meeting that may make the boss look good.

Keen readers of this blog will note that for the log the manager creates on employees, there is the expectation to start providing performance feedback.  That’s because this is a core duty of the manager (really!).   It isn’t typically a core duty for the employee to give feedback to the manager, and as there are some other things to try before jumping into the performance feedback zone, I’ve added a new column, “Strategy to Address This” so you track and coach yourself on your efforts to make the work environment and relationship with your boss better.

You’ll notice that in the act of preparing for feedback there is no “feedback to manager” yet, but the preparation for feedback may give you some new tools for dealing with difficult situations.  The very act of documenting a manager’s behaviors may give you just enough insights to try something new with the manager, rather than repeating the same thing over and over.  There are no guarantees that such strategies will work, but it is better to experiment and try new things rather than just get into an increasingly damaging cycle of behaviors!

Of course, this is still no excuse for a manager to be bad, as we should expect more from our managers than relying enlightened employees trying to solve this problem of odd management behaviors.  However, as management design, it provides a new channel for identifying common problems in the workforce and an earnest effort toward making things better by those who are most directly affected – the employees.

In my next post, I’ll provide tips for taking the next step to give feedback to your manager: Identifying and reinforcing the positive behaviors.

Have you ever kept a log on your manager?  What did you learn?  What strategies did you do differently?

Related Articles:

Step 2 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Reinforce the positive behaviors

Step 3 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Ask how your manager prefers to receive feedback

Step 4 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Prepare by talking to Human Resources first

Step 5 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Identifying what the feedback is and when to give the feedback

Step 6 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Phrases to use during the feedback conversation

Employees leaving bad managers – what kind of actionable feedback does this provide the manager?

Can organizations use attrition rates to improve manager performance? It’s tough to do

Using surveys to provide feedback to a manager: How effective is this?

Managers giving managers feedback on managing: How well is this done?

How do employees give feedback to their manager?

How to give feedback to your manager: Some possible openings

How about managers ask for feedback from their employees?

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 1)

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 2)

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 3)

Specific phrases and examples for how to ask for feedback from your employees

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .

Comments

7 Responses to “Step 1 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Prepare for it and you might get some insights”
  1. another Walt guy says:

    This is a great article, Walter!

  2. majorshadow says:

    Song, “Sweetest Lemonade”
    Hear @ URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYcHW1kuP-k

    A song about the bad boss, improving your position in life, and never settling

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