I've recently been employed as a people manager for a branch of a large organization which is struggling with both staff engagement and performance. One of my observations after being in the role for only 3 weeks is that the management teams don't respect each other's perspectives, and this is openly shared in front of direct reports (looks exchanged, disagreements in open places etc).

My new boss has also come across a little unprofessional by enabling this behavior. He's shared with me on several occasions the performance issues other managers are having and has advised one manager what I had requested for remuneration (this was brought up as laughing point in a meeting with several other managers, although no offense was meant).

He asked me to meet with him next week and share my observations of the branch, because he wants an honest outsider's view on how they are operating in order to assist him with making some needed changes.

Any ideas on how I approach this with him or what to say? I'm hesitant to say anything at all because I like the role and ideally want to stay and eventually progress into a role similar to his. However, I also want to trust my boss and currently don't feel I can.

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    Possible duplicate of Should I propose a big change as a newcomer? – gnat Feb 3 '17 at 8:29
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    see also Should I say anything of substance in a 1-on-1? – gnat Feb 3 '17 at 8:29
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    "However, I also want to trust my boss and currently don't feel I can." Doesn't that answer your question? I'd suggest editing your question to ask "Does it make sense to give critical feedback when you're new?" as that can be more comprehensively answered than "Should I do X?". – Lilienthal Feb 3 '17 at 9:25
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    Possible duplicate of What should I answer on questions about other employees? – Thalantas Feb 3 '17 at 10:29
  • I feel like you're asking the wrong question. If your job is to help solve this issue (if, I don't really know what a people manager does) then not giving your honest advice seems out of the question to me. If that is your job/responsibility, then you should be thinking of ways to give your honest advice to your boss in a way that harbors change or at least consideration. – Shelby115 Sep 20 '17 at 2:45

If your manager shares the details of your remuneration request with other managers (as a laughing matter or otherwise), do you think your "honest" feedback would be treated with any more respect? It sounds clear to me that nothing good is likely to come out of your honest feedback.

If he remembers to ask you for the feedback again, just offer standard "diplomatic" feedback and be done with. I would also advise not to grow too fond of this role and certainly not to look up to taking his role. This management sounds messed up, you should try to get out of there as early as you can.

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    +1 Even in more serious/professional environments, it seems hard to tell if a manager asking for "feedback", "honest feedback", etc. actually means it or not. Judging by some instances where I did provide feedback that had been solicited (e.g. answering questions), it seems like what they were looking for was what I now call The Standard Confirmation of Agreement™ (patent pending). – code_dredd Oct 4 '17 at 6:34

He is being very honest with you and saying that they want your opinion, so be very honest with him and report your observations. Be diplomatic in how you present the observations, be ready to give one or two specific examples and to offer alternative ways that these could have been dealt with. If he doesn't like criticism of his own behaviours and is unwilling to see that he is part of the reason that performance and engagement with staff is problematic then nothing is going to change anyway.

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    Given that OP was a new hire at the time, it might be wiser to get a good idea of who can and cannot be given a certain amount of trust with certain things before giving your honest opinion about it. – code_dredd Oct 4 '17 at 6:38
  • So your suggestion is simply "Tell him what he wants to hear?" – Wes Oct 4 '17 at 6:50
  • No. I'm saying that it may be too early to decide whether it's a good idea to trust something you don't expect to be shared to a wider audience with who someone OP already knows is openly disregarding those implicit assumptions/etiquette. In every instance I provided feedback that had been solicited, whenever it wasn't what the mgr wanted to hear, it usually turned into a "diplomatic push-back" of some kind. That was a post-facto way of knowing that they weren't there to listen to anything I had to say in the first place... in fact, even annual internal surveys barely changed anything. – code_dredd Oct 4 '17 at 6:59

There's a difference between honest and blunt. Very few people react well to direct criticism and go on the defensive.

There are a few tricks you can employ to soften the blow:

Framing a problem in a way that allows the other person to feel like the can step up and do something positive gets better reception than framing it like they should step away from doing something negative. People want to see themsevles as the heroes not the villains.

On a macro level balancing your criticism with positive observations (and leading with them) can help put people at ease and make you appear less of a pessimist/complainer/picky and more thorough.

For specific personal criticism the sandwich strategy can also helpful. It's very similar to the one before but aims to improve who your opposite feels. I didn't read the previous link. It does raise some concerns in using the strategy but also refers to an approach that is slightly different from what I have learned. The article uses the formula "some good feedback" + "some negative feedback" + "some good feedback". And if used clumsily I can definitely see how this would backfire ("Hey X, I appreciate your punctual arrival every day, you're an absolute asshole to work with but I do commend you for the long hours you put in!"). I've learned that for a good sandwich the formula should go more like this: "praising a positive aspect of the problematic behavior" + "bringing up the negative" + "offering a positive option for improvement" ("Hey X, I really appreciate how open you are to help your fellow workers with their computer problems, unfortunately your cologne is quite a bit too strong for many people, if you could tone it down some your help would recieve even more appreciation.") But, yeah. The article is correct: if you use this as a cheap trick it's probably going to backfire. But so is smacking people over the head with just the complaint. It is worth considering whether you can pull this off in a genuine and sensible way.

I agree with others that it's difficult to judge the situation, whether your boss will be open to what you have to say. But I'd say it's probably better to assume good intentions and do what you've been asked to do (give honest outsider feedback). If that isn't actually wanted you're in trouble anyway so might as well find out early...

  • "For specific personal criticism the sandwich strategy is also helpful." Are you sure you read that right? The article as a whole is an argument for why the sandwich approach does not work, makes the process feel disingenous to the recipients, and other negative consequences of using it. Your post asserts the complete opposite of the article you cite. – code_dredd Oct 5 '17 at 8:37
  • @ray Thank you!. I didn't actually read the link. Ooops. I've expanded my answer to address your point. – Kempeth Oct 5 '17 at 9:42

protected by Masked Man Oct 5 '17 at 9:44

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