Giving feedback to your boss

On their way to lunch, the chief financial officer (CFO), the chief human resources officer (CHRO) and their boss stumble on a beaten-up but valuable-looking brass container.

Curious, the CFO picks it up and starts cleaning it with his handkerchief. Suddenly, a genie emerges out of a curtain of purple smoke and tells them how grateful he is to be set free and offers them each a wish.

Wide-eyed and ecstatic, the CHRO says, "I want to be living on a beautiful beach with a sailboat and enough money to make me happy for the rest of my life." Poof! She disappears.

The CFO says, "Wow! I want to be happily married to a wealthy movie star with penthouses in Singapore". Presto, he vanishes.

"And how about you?" asks the genie, looking at the boss. The boss scowls and says, "I want both those idiots back in the office by 2 pm." MORAL: Always let your boss speak first!

We all get useful insight about our boss while observing them in dealing with the board, and clients, during presentations, negotiations, crisis management and so on. Such insights could be useful to your boss if you get to share them. But most of us would hesitate to do so for fear of jeopardising our otherwise good relationship and putting our job at risk. But if done in a tactful way, it may actually work like magic for both concerned.

Management manuals tell us that leadership is all about perception: if leaders do not know how they are perceived, their progress and performance will suffer. But in our culture, giving honest feedback to your seniors in the organisation is almost unheard of, as it is considered audacity.

Fortunately, I have been lucky to work for companies where taking feedback from the boss, peers, team members and external people were all part of an annual process. In my case, after receiving the process-driven 360-degree feedback, I used to sit with my immediate team members, one to one, to ask three simple questions: What to stop, what to continue and what to start.

After summarising the findings, I used to share it with them in the management committee so that I could get different perspectives. If the top executive nurtures such a culture, it is bound to spread across the company as a cultural norm over the course of time.

While giving feedback to your boss, you may consider factors, including your relationship with your boss, mutual trust for each other, whether it will be welcome or not, and focusing on issues you observed, instead of harbouring doubts and keeping your mouth shut!

It is also important how you phrase your feedback. When you give feedback phrase it like "would you consider ….?"

When drawing attention to a flaw, using "we" instead of "you" works better. It is imperative to show sincerity to help rather than pointing out faults.

It is human nature to get defensive when confronted with negative feedbacks. Knowing this general tendency, the onus of creating the right environment for giving feedback is with the leader and not the team.

In our work environment, sharing and discussing weaknesses is like being disloyal or exposing a big secret, almost a cultural taboo. Both sharing and receiving feedbacks require self-confidence, courage, and willingness to improve. Having the open culture of giving constructive feedback can immensely be instrumental in the growth of both leaders and their organisations. Why should leaders waste this opportunity?

We are often so eloquent and even innovatively humorous in our character assassination of our bosses behind their back. But we can simply turn this practice around and make it beneficial for all concerned, given the right attitude and culture in the workplace.

Greater awareness and learning the art of giving and taking feedback constructively can do a world of good to leaders, their organisations and the country.

The author is a telecom and management expert.


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