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

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This is the latest in a series of posts to help employees give corrective feedback to their manager.  If done well, the manager improves at being a manager, the team works better together, and there is less cost of poor quality management.  If done poorly, the manager can recriminate on the employees trying to give feedback, making a bad situation worse.

This series is designed to help employees maximize the likelihood that feedback to the manager goes well, and minimize the likelihood that the manager does not accept the feedback and causes further damage to the team.  Here are the prior steps:

Step 1: Keep a log and identify non-feedback strategies

Step 2: Provide positive reinforcement to the behaviors you like

Step 3: Create an agreement in advance with the manager to receive feedback from employees

Now step 4:  Make a pre-emptive trip to Human Resources:

Not all organizations have a Human Resources (HR) department, and not all Human Resources departments do well at working with employees to address concerns, but the HR department is supposed to be the place where employees go to discuss employment issues and concerns, and many organizations have dedicated HR personnel who are assigned to your department for this purpose.

This purpose is often underutilized, and instead many employees suffer through miserable work experiences, and complain amongst themselves.  Or it is a resource that is over-utilized in that employees go to Human Resources to complain, and expect the people in HR to then solve the problem.

I propose a third way in working with HR to help improve your manager’s behaviors:

Discuss with HR what feedback you are providing to the manager, why you are providing it, how you plan to give it, and what you plan to say. . . before giving feedback to your manager.

You’ve been gearing up for this for a while, keeping a log, identifying what you would like the manager to do instead, reinforcing good behaviors, identifying if and when feedback could be given.  Now it’s time to do the last bit of preparation.

The benefits of talking to HR in advance of giving feedback to managers are the following:

–It allows you to practice discussing the actions of your manager in a behavior-based (“my manager does this. . .”), not emotion-based (“I hate my boss”) way

–It establishes that you have thought through the issues and want to make things better

–It creates a background on the issue with a different party outside of the discussion between you and your manager

–It gives you further coaching on how to approach your manager (and whether it is wise)

–You have a place to discuss the results of the conversation.  If your manager begins to recriminate, either subtly or not subtly, you have a place to discuss these issues

–If you do this in a way that shows you are interested in improving the performance of a team, this could create an improved bridge between HR and your department.

What not to expect from HR in giving feedback to managers:

–Don’t expect HR to give the feedback to your boss on your behalf

–Don’t expect HR to track this issue to add up whether your manager is good or bad

–Don’t expect HR to provide you protection throughout the process (they may, but don’t expect it), but instead expect HR to listen to your concerns and offer advice

Here are some tips for your conversation with HR

1. Establish positive intent

“I want to talk to you (HR) about my manager.  I feel that there are opportunities that my manager can improve at being a manager, and I wanted to discuss with you first where these opportunities are.”

If you don’t have positive intent (i.e., you’re looking to get your boss fired), then this will not work.  You have to stay focused on the intent of giving feedback to provide an alternative set of behaviors to make your boss better.  This is not a project to get your boss fired or in trouble.

2. Describe your intention to give the feedback directly to the manager

I’d like to give some feedback to my manager on what I feel could be done different to help the team perform better and make for a better work environment.

Many people go to HR to complain.   Few people go to HR to discuss, “here’s what I’m going to do about this issue, and may I get your help and advice in taking this on.”  By offering to take on the issue, this demonstrates further your positive intent, your plan for dealing with it and gives HR a chance to counsel you on what to do and what not to do.

3. Obtain material from the management development class that supports your request for improved behaviors

“I was wondering if you had any material from your management development program that supports my ideas for how my manager can improve.”

Most HR departments are charged with providing the Management Training (commonly called “Management Development Programs” or “Leadership Development Programs”) in your organization.  These training classes provide many expectations on how to be great managers, but these things covered in training are frequently forgotten once managers are released into the wild.

However, it is very likely that the management training will reinforce what you are hoping your manager stops doing and starts doing instead.  In discussing this with HR, you are likely to get phrases, terms and words that will at least resonate with the manager for what the right behavior is.

4. Listen to the HR representative’s advice on moving forward

“What advice do you have on how I should give this feedback to my manager?”

Your HR representative should have some sense on how common or uncommon managers in your organization receive feedback on their management skills, and what works and what doesn’t.  The HR representative may also give you some contexts and phrases that will further help you prepare for the conversation, or may also tell you that this is too risky.  In this case, you can then turn it back to HR and say, “OK, so what is to be done about this issue?  Should we expect this to continue to happen?”

5. Ask to have a follow up discussion with the HR representative to discuss how it went

“Can I meet with you again to let you know how it went?”

This is an important step in that you are going to create a channel where you can say whether the manager accepted the feedback or whether the manager rejected the feedback, discuss how it went and what could have been done differently.  It also establishes a time for you to work with HR before the manager has a chance to complain to HR him- or herself.  And the poorly reacting manager running to HR will likely look a lot less prepared and a lot less mature should this be the case, giving HR further clues about the boss’s behaviors on the job.  If the manager reacts positively to the feedback (which, if the feedback is behavior-based and the manager actually wants to improve as a manager), then this gives you a chance to happily let HR know this.  Don’t leave HR hanging.

It’s a lot of work to provide feedback to a manager.  This step of discussing it with HR is one of a series.  But hang in there.  The cost of low quality managers is lot to deal with, and creates a huge burden on employees, and asking employees to then do the work of providing corrective feedback to their managers is both risky and a lot of work.  This current management design that makes it risky, awkward and cumbersome to give feedback to a manager needs to be improved.

However, when faced with manager who needs to improve at being a manager, employee feedback is one of the best channels for feedback, as employees are close to the situation and have the most to gain from improved management practices, and given the dearth of other feedback to managers, the manager’s behaviors are not likely to change without it.  Using HR as a resource will help in this process.

What have been your experiences in discussing management issues with HR? What has been the process you’ve gone through?

Related Articles:

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

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 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

How do employees give feedback to their manager?

How to give feedback to your manager: Some possible openings

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?

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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 .


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