Should You Critique Your Boss?
Bosses are people too and that means sometimes there’s room for improvement in performance. Sometimes known as “upward feedback”, allowing the space for performance evaluation to flow from employee to boss as easily as it does from boss to employee is highly valuable to effective leadership and job satisfaction. The problem is, many managers and/or companies don’t openly welcome this flow of feedback. So when it seems your boss does have some room for improvement, should you speak up and how can you do so without jeopardizing your position?
- The Why: It’s important to ask yourself why you feel you need to share particular feedback with your boss. If they’re often late to meetings with clients and you are getting direct complaints from those clients about this issue, this is clearly a professional, fact-based situation you can address with your manager. If your boss is often late to meetings and it irks you because it means you’re leaving the office 10 minutes late a few times a month, this is a personally driven issue and will likely come across as such should you choose to broach the subject.
- Relationship Check: Take a minute to be honest with yourself about your boss/employee relationship. Do you communicate with each other well? Are you often on the same page? Do they trust you? If you’re answering yes to these questions, that can indicate a strong professional relationship in which both of you would likely be open to sharing feedback on performance. If you have communication issues or haven’t yet built a strong relationship with your superior, giving them a job critique is likely only going to cause friction.
- You Aren’t The Boss: As an employee, you only see your boss from one viewpoint. Take a step back and evaluate the situation from his/her perspective. You may think there’s a problem with your manager’s email response time, but if their response time is that of most other managers in the company and hasn’t garnered any direct problems, perhaps there’s not a real issue. The reality could be a combination of following company standards and being very busy. In this situation, instead of sharing criticism about response delay, you could offer your superior additional assistance in replying to some of their less pertinent emails.
If you determine sharing upward feedback is appropriate:
- Find an Opening: If your boss asks you for feedback then you don’t have to worry about this much. However, if that’s not the case, it’s important to begin the conversation the right way. The Harvard Business Review suggests saying “Would it be helpful to you for me to give you feedback at certain points in this project?’ or ‘I’m likely to have a unique perspective on what we’re doing, would you like some feedback about how X is going?”. Whatever phrasing you choose, make sure you stay positive and present very honest intentions. Any negativity could drive the conversation south.
- Stick to the Script: I often find writing things down beforehand helps me keep a clear focus in a discussion, but you don’t have to take this step literally. What I mean by “sticking to the script” is just make sure you keep your feedback concentrated on one subject matter. Don’t let feedback on a clearly thought out topic snowball into complaints. This will dilute your original intended message and likely make your boss unreceptive.
- Keep it Private: I’d like to think this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. It’s highly inappropriate for you to share any criticism with your superior in a public setting. When sharing upward feedback, do so in a private setting where your boss will feel comfortable.
As Forbes says, “the bottom line: keep it classy, professional, and kind.” Don’t make it about you. The focus should always be about improving results and helping your boss. And when in doubt, let it go. Even your boss has a boss and for the most part, any large scale concerns will be addressed by his/her supervisor.
About the Author: Lindsay Konlande currently serves as the Association Assistant for IREM Houston. Lindsay earned her Bachelor Degree in Communication from Texas A&M and has several years of experience in marketing, public relations and copywriting.