First of all, should you bother?
Pretty much everyone agrees that feedback is positive for teams but they generally mean either from the manager to the team or to peers, not upward feedback to the boss. This is problematic. If feedback is so positive down the line, it should be positive upwards as well? Surely?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. A good boss will be open to hearing how they could improve. But seniority and age (and sometimes arrogance) can make this less common than it should be.
Before giving feedback to your boss, you need to think about the following areas:
- The culture. Not just organisational culture but also the culture you operate in. Some cultures are much less hierachical than others. The more hierachical the culture is, the less likely giving upward feedback will be successful. Giving upward feedback may not be acceptable in some cultures. If you are unsure, ask your colleagues who else has given upward feedback. If it looks like you would be the first, it may not be the best approach.
- Your boss. A good boss will invite feedback. Some bosses do this directly. Others hint at it. But many are not interested. When the feedback is not invited, then you need to understand your relationship with your boss fully. Is your relationship good enough for you to give feedback? if you are relatively new, hold off. You are still learning.
- The setting. Choose the right time and the right place. Book a meeting and treat it seriously. Don't try and do it casually at the watercooler.
- Your limited knowledge. Decisions are easy and obvious until you actually have to take one. There may be factors your boss will be taking into account that you are unaware of. When you want clarity over an issue, they may be unable to give it because they are aware of something else (confidential) that will affect that issue. You need to make sure your feedback accepts that there may be things you do not know.
- Your mood. Things started in anger, end in shame. Getting emotional will undermine your feedback and may reflect badly on you. Wait until any anger has passed and you are feeling objective about your feedback.
- Your focus. As with any feedback, focus on the behaviour not the person. Focus on the consequences of the behaviour on the effectiveness of the team. If you struggle to show that, it could be just a difference in management style which you need to get used to. You need to show that a change will lead to a more effective team, not just a happier one.
- Your performance. This is a tough one. You need to ask yourself how credible you are. The reality is that most people respond better to feedback from people they respect. If your own performance is mediocre or weak, you may not be the best person to give feedback to your boss. They may see it as retaliation or simply you blaming others for your own weak performance.
Your small improvement for today is to review these seven areas before giving your boss feedback.