How do I review my manager without repercussions.
October 29, 2012 8:50 PM   Subscribe

How honest can I afford to be in my upward manager review when he will know instantly that it's me? I have real issues to address but fear repercussions. And yes, it's supposedly anonymous.

I'm a middle aged creative sort who worked freelance in the arts for many years. A few years back I landed a good job that fit perfectly with my creative skill set. I work for a fun and popular website. It pays me much better than freelancing and I now enjoy the stability.

Not having a great deal of experience in this liberal but still corporate setting I'm not sure what to do about my 'real world work' dilemma.

The person that I report to on a daily basis is new at managing (as far as I can tell, based on a few stories he's told but having never seen his resume.) In fact, we were part of the same team and he was promoted within the last 9 months.

Here are a few examples of my current issues. He looks over my shoulder and checks my work before the deadlines I've been given. He makes sure that I remember to do things that are obviously my job and which I have never forgotten. When he gives me feedback, he does so down to the period and decimal point so that I have no choice but to essentially copy his work into mine because that is the way he insists it must be.
And, yes, he does it with everyone around him (he interacts with other teams although they don't report to him.) He hates when people disagree with him or make suggestions to him.

I honestly think that he thinks that this is the way to manage a team. And at first, I thought that it was just my inexperience and ego -- that I needed to get over myself. I hadn't had this problem with my old manager and I felt that I thrived.

Anyway, I'm going on too long -- here's the crux:
He will get 'anonymous' feedback from two (2) people. He will know it's me, without question.
I feel like his response will be to become cold and torpedo me.
I need this job.
He is killing my love for this job, slowly but inevitably.
Eventually, I will be miserable or quit -- but maybe I can stick it out for a year or two.

I honestly don't know what to do. I've never been here before.
I have tried to talk with him about a couple of issues in the past and gotten nowhere.
Thank you.
posted by Toto_tot to Work & Money (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You need to make an appointment with HR and ask them the question you've used as your title: how do I review my manager without repercussions? Maybe they have some sort of plan in effect for this type of thing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:56 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

You are right, your management is not managing, it's playing at managing. That is not necessarily through malice; it's probably because this person has been thrown into a management job to sink or swim.

That said, -nothing- is anonymous, and the more strident the declaration of anonymity the less anonymous it is.

The way to navigate this is to manage upward. Help your manager. It works best if you can put the past aside for a while, make constructive suggestions in a way that gets them implemented, and break the tension. I have only just learned how to do this and it has been quite a revelation.

The mantra is "help, hold hands, remember everyone is on the edge of their ability in a well-run place."
posted by jet_silver at 8:58 PM on October 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

While I understand that working with him must be exhausting and frustrating (I hate being micromanaged!), the things you describe could be viewed in a different light by upper management: i.e., he gives constructive feedback promptly and does a great job of making sure you meet your internal deadlines. So maybe write a review that highlights those things as strengths and find a way to subtly signal that you hope you will be given more trust/responsibility down the road. (I'm sure someone else will think of a good script.)

I assume your manager is nervous about being responsible for someone else's work and is still adjusting to their new position. I would respond in a way designed to encourage the supervisor to trust you. There is no way this going to be that anonymous. If you write something negative, your manager will see that as evidence that you are ready to erode his authority when given a chance--that's no way to foster a good working relationship.

Also, brush up your resume and be on the lookout for other jobs, just in case!
posted by studioaudience at 9:07 PM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

How about scheduling a one-on-one with him before the review and telling him "I'm not a tattletale and I don't want to put anything in a review I wouldn't say to your face, so I figured it'd be better to have an honest talk about this instead of blindsiding you. I've noticed you doing (a) (b) (c). It's unnecessary and for me it's really counterproductive. Could we do (d) (e) (f) instead?" Then on the review write "Mgr and I have met one on one to discuss some of the issues which these questions address and I expect things are resolved."

This would only work if he truly is a well meaning manager, of course.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:13 PM on October 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Under the circumstances I don't think that this review is a good way for you to express your problems with this manager. He'll know who you are and he'll perceive your review as an attack on his job. You may need to (gently) confront him on these issues and try to find some resolution. The performance review thing is a red herring, it doesn't offer any way to improve your situation though it does offer some ways to make things worse. Just write a review that won't get you in trouble with your manager, and then find another way to work on the issue such as talking to him in person, bringing up your concerns to someone higher up the chain, speaking with HR, finding someone you can vent to, altering your expectations of the job, finding another job, getting a horizontal transfer, etc.
posted by Scientist at 9:18 PM on October 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

If you need this job, then you highlight the positives/put a positive spin on his management style in the review and start trying to manage up on a day-to-day basis. And actively look for a new job.

There's nothing good that will come out of criticizing his management. You want to keep your job without drama; he wants to not be undermined; at some point you know you will reach your threshold for tolerating this - or, who knows, maybe he will settle down.

I would just tread as softly as possible.
posted by heyjude at 9:24 PM on October 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

You need to make an appointment with HR and ask them the question you've used as your title: how do I review my manager without repercussions? Maybe they have some sort of plan in effect for this type of thing.

Sorry, this is the worst advice ever. Never tell HR that you have issues with your manager. HR is not your labor union, your friend, or an impartial adjudicator of worker-management disputes. HR works for management. Your best bet is to make nice while you look for another job. Do not stay too long.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:22 PM on October 29, 2012 [19 favorites]

Nuggets of criticism among a mountain of praise. Play up as many strengths as possible before including the criticism, close on positive note.

Do not put into practice if you think he's too sensitive to take any criticism at all. Start a job search either way, as he's unlikely to change.
posted by pseudonick at 10:32 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wordwoman is right: don't go to HR. This is the mechanism you've got -- any other avenue would be more threatening to him, not less. Also, you are correct -- you cannot assume this avenue is anonymous: it totally isn't.

What you need to do is tell the truth in a way that avoids triggering him to be defensive. So say something like this: "This is a great company, and I love working here. I love my job, and my manager is great -- his expectations are clear and my job is well defined. The only problem we have is that he seems to feel like he needs to manage me quite closely, which makes me anxious that he doesn't trust me to take my responsibilities seriously and execute my job well. I would like to get some feedback on how I can demonstrate to him that I can capably handle my responsibilities so he doesn't feel the need to oversee me so closely."

That is pretty careful professional non-threatening language, but it's also pretty clear. I'd say you owe it to yourself and the company, and your boss, to offer some basic level of truth. If you feel unsafe/uncomfortable with that level of honesty, then you should probably start looking for another job, because there isn't enough trust in this one for it to be sustainable. Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 10:43 PM on October 29, 2012 [16 favorites]

It's 100% true that HR is not your friend, but your manager's manager has a major interest in making sure that your manager is keeping his team as productive as possible. You don't give the higher-ups the tools they need to fix the problem if you suffer in silence. However, your negative points will be taken more seriously if they're within the framework of an overall positive outlook on your manager, so you do need to be careful and diplomatic for a lot of reasons.

Talk to HR just to make sure you're clear about the nuts and bolts of the process so you can tell if there are steps in place to filter your feedback before you manager sees it (in a well-run review process, there are), but I'd also suggest you try asking a few friendly coworkers who have been there longer how the review process works and how honest they are. They can be much more accurate guides as to whether you should write polite lies or honest feedback, and whether the reviews are taken seriously, or just window-dressing. (Obviously, if they say the whole thing is a farce, then you should just play your assigned role of Happy Employee #47 while you look for a new job).

However, even if the reviews are not anonymous at all, if the process is taken seriously, I think you should try to say something. The best strategy is to a) find three or four positive things you can say about this manager, and then b) pick the biggest issue of the ones you have and address it gently. A good format for the latter is to praise your manager for having a positive end goal in mind, but suggest an alternate route to that goal may be more effective. For instance, you might say "My manager is committed to producing a quality product, which is reflected his prompt and extremely detailed feedback. I hope that as we work together longer, we can build more trust that his commitment to quality is shared by the team and such close supervision won't be required."
posted by psycheslamp at 10:51 PM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I disagree with Wordwoman's advice. She is correct that HR is not your friend but ensuring confidentiality in a review and barring repercussions is one of their responsibilities. I'm a firm believer in speaking up for myself. You can couch it diplomatically to HR by saying a review of your manager doesn't seem appropriate if he can identify you and that he doesn't handle criticism well, then ask them how do they recommend you proceed.

One question to ask, however, is what repercussion do you fear? Once when I received a poor review, I responded to it in writing, outlining issues that I thought my manager had that negatively impacted my work. I didn't want a bad review in my file without a response. I wasn't fired and I know the issue was discussed with him and his manager and things improved.

I do like Susan PG's wording.
posted by shoesietart at 10:54 PM on October 29, 2012

I've been on both sides of this.

On a small team there is no way that your manager won't know your feedback came from you.

BUT, based on the examples you cite, this isn't the type of thing that you should be giving anonymously through HR. These seems like the both of you need to find a way to work together. A good working relationship should be a continuous two way dialog. You should bring up your concerns directly with him. Open the conversation on a positive note. Let him know the things you like about his style. Then bring up your concerns. Be respectful and specific. Give him clear ways that he can improve.

The anonymous feedback mechanisms are only really effective for really major issues. Imagine being in his shoes. If someone had a few issues with how you interact, what would be more helpful: having them bring up those issues directly, and problem solving together? Or, getting some generic feedback that went through some random bureaucratic HR process?
posted by nazca at 10:58 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been in almost the exact same situation. My advice is don't do it, it won't turn out well.

Your manager finding out you wrote a negative review is the least of your worries. Your real problem is that your boss's manager (or other managers two levels above you) made the decision that this guy is ready for management responsibilities, and you're trying to tell them they were wrong. They don't want to hear that, and they'll be highly receptive to your manager telling them something like "Yeah, Toto_tot's work has been a bit of a problem lately, and I've been giving her some extra coaching. I think this review makes it clear that she's got an attitude problem that needs to be corrected..."

If your boss anticipates a negative review from you, he can easily make you out to be a problem employee to his boss even before you write it. That way, by the time your review hits their inbox, they are already predisposed to dismiss your feedback. You should take into account that this may have been done already. One mistake to avoid: taking him aside and trying to have a frank and open discussion about your working relationship. This practically telegraphs your intention to give him a negative review.

You're somewhat protected if your feedback is confirmed by multiple independent sources, so writing a truthful review is essentially a gamble that this will happen. Even then, you are at risk for retaliation from him, so you should probably only do this if you think you can get him fired.

Your best move is to whitewash your review. If you are lucky, he'll appreciate that and give you a break next year, but you are basically at his mercy. Don't be misled by the performance review process into thinking that they want the truth. The formal channels don't exist for your benefit.

If you don't like how your boss treats you, never let it show. It is more advantageous to you to keep him guessing, because you'll get treated better if he's a little paranoid.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:22 PM on October 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

If your advice is essentially unwanted and could get you in hot water, why fucking bother? Sounds like poorly thought-out stupid HR tricks, rather than a thoughtful attempt at improvement.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:01 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with nazca. However, I think you can use the anonymous feedback: it's just a question of putting your feedback in acceptable terms. If you tell someone he's a shit manager and should get off your back, it's not likely to end well. If you tell him he's sometimes too much of a perfectionist and there's scope for him to delegate more you might get somewhere.
posted by Segundus at 2:01 AM on October 30, 2012

First up - your experience is not uncommon, and new managers promoted from within teams have a whole range of insecurities that you may not be privy to. It is hard from them and you. Your boss's boss will know that the situation you are going through is a risk. The issue is partly the lack of anonymity of the feedback - which will cause issues - but the real issue is not, funnily enough, that they will find out it is you.

Upward feedback forms are not the place to start sticking the knife in without warning. Neither are downward reviews for that matter. It is bad practice to use the review process to suddenly throw turds about and can create far more disruption than you might imagine. You should be communicating with the person you are feeding back on consistently, tactfully and directly. It may take time. It may not work, of course. If it gets worse, you may need to go over their head and have a sensitive conversation with their boss.

It's worth considering the politics of organisations: your boss's boss has appointed him for a reason. Maybe he/she thought he was great and merited more responsibility. Maybe he/she had no choice. But if he/she acts like most people, suddenly reading a poor upward review creates three problems at once:

- a potential issue with your new boss,
- a question mark over you for being unable to work cooperatively with your boss,
- and a third risk that someone important in your team will leave.

The biggest risk from "mutiny" over poor management is not necessarily that people like you leave or become disenfranchised. To your boss's boss personally, the largest risk may be that they have do some of the heavy lifting on managing your boss's team, over and above their own workload. This means they really want your boss to succeed. Bear in mind, for example, that a management trope is the disgruntled employee who doesn't like one of their peers being promoted. I'm not saying that is you. I am saying you run the risk of being perceived as that person if you go for the nuclear option early.

This is why turds in upward reviews are not great up or down the management chain. They are a surprise. They create question marks over where the problem really is. They are official, so may force some formal action. They don't generally provide enough information to decide if the problem is you, your boss or both of you. They break bridges between you and your boss, sometimes irretrievably - because of the loss of face involved in a bad upward review. Anecdotally, my experience is that people who write the harshest upward reviews - even when accurate - are generally signalling that they are also vocalising those comments in public too and being disruptive in their reaction to poor management.

Follow the correct steps. Both because it will serve you better and because if you need to have a conversation with your boss's boss or HR you can show that you have taken remedial steps already. Speak to your manager about your issues in a non-confrontational way that suggests strongly you are on their side and support them. Their ego matters. If you still have concerns, speak to their boss. I would suggest only after you have explored these avenues should you be going down formal routes of involving HR or committing this to your boss's record via the review process.

This assumes you wish to stay in your role, forge a productive relationship with your manager.

Reading the way your manager is behaving, you are facing a common issue with easily identifiable and fixable problems. People who get promoted from an operational role to junior management often micromanage because a) they were good at their operational job and b) it's their security blanket. Your manager is insecure [which is why options that bruise their ego are not great] and lacks the tools to manage properly at the moment. You've not indicated some egregious character failing on their part that would prevent some management coaching making them a better manager who you could work with. The productive course of action is to cut them some slack, recognise they are learning, help them become more secure, and see if you can get them the training they need without bruising their ego.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:16 AM on October 30, 2012 [12 favorites]

It doesn't matter about the theoretical right to anonymity if anonymity is physically impossible.

You have been put in a very awkward position here. There are only a few situated where a boss will appreciate negative feedback from a subordinate and if you were in one of those, you would already know it. You may never get an opportunity to critique your boss's management style, and as you suspect, this isn't one.

What I think you should do here is do unto your boss as you would have him do unto you. I can understand how annoying the micromanaging must be because it's a common problem. But it clearly isn't malicious nor is it targeted at you. He's simply doing what he has to do to cope with the job of being a manager. I would recommend that you tolerate this and not take it personally.

So you just make it descriptive. Write that his feedback is always very prompt, very exacting, and very specific. Either his bosses will like that or they won't. How do you know that they haven't said or implied to him "and the second one of your reports fucks up, we'll have a great time blaming it on you! Happy managing, and don't forget to have fun!" So if they caught him micromanaging, they'd put a stop to it since it would actually be effective in stopping them from blaming him for his reports' mistakes. If his bosses don't care what he does, they won't care that he's micromanaging. And if his bosses are as groovy as you would like them to be, they'll tell him to cool it and give you more autonomy.

The worst case is if it is taken as positive feedback, in which case you will have fulfilled your job role of making your boss look good, and your daily situation won't get any worse.

Bottom line, don't use an "anonymous" review to correct your annoying but non malicious manager because that is more likely to hurt both of you than help either of you.
posted by tel3path at 4:28 AM on October 30, 2012

I've seen similar situations time and time again, and they never turn out well for the subordinate employee. Upper management always sides with the micromanager. I've interviewed for jobs where they've told me up front that my potential boss is a micromanager. Companies just don't see it as an issue worth worrying about. I would start looking for another job.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:59 AM on October 30, 2012

I recommend total, butt licking, North Korean style sycophancy.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:20 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You are doomed. I have experienced the same thing ( incapable "manager" thrust into management), and his style was similar. Problem was he was incapable of letting experienced people do their job. He always felt the need to micromanage, but he never knew he was. You can't go to HR or upper management, because he was their choice, so you are going to make them look bad.

Best you can do is write a review suggesting that his team has years of experience, and that he could loosen the reigns a bit to let them try to stretch out a bit.
posted by Gungho at 6:30 AM on October 30, 2012

Once you get past this review period, you should probably spend your weekly AskMe question on something like "My boss micromanages me. What are some strategies that I can use to let him know he can trust my work?"

Personally, I like the ideas of proactively sending status reports every day and proactively asking him for advice on something before he has a chance to read your work and offer advice. But others probably have better ideas.
posted by CathyG at 6:44 AM on October 30, 2012

Never tell the truth in those upward manager reviews or in employee satisfaction surveys. It's not anonymous and they don't do anything with the information anyway.

The best way to impart this information is in your exit reveiw before you move onto your next job.

Start looking for a new job, you can put up with this guy for as long as it takes for you to find a better gig.

Learn to shine him on, accept that you'll be inserting his work into yours for the time being. This is your world now. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you move on, the happier you'll be.

Upper management has to live with their choices, you don't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:12 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is not the way to address the real issues. Write a totally uncreative and generic assessment, vaguely referencing weaknesses and strengths in a PC way.
posted by desuetude at 7:43 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a chance that your inexperienced manager will appreciate and incorporate your carefully worded feedback, but this isn't going to happen if you put it in the review.

I'm looking at your situation in slightly more optimistic terms. Not every bad manager is hopeless (and one of my handful of AskMes was an anguished plea about my bad managers, so I know how awful it is)! My SO was promoted to manager and got a negative review from one of her subordinates after a year in her position. She knew who it was (everyone is correct: these are not truly anonymous) and she was frustrated to hear this guy's complaints that he never brought up to her in that year. He also was one of the measurably least productive people on the team.

Yet instead of ignoring him completely she thought long and hard on it and eventually used his feedback to improve her management style. She asked her boss for coaching. There are managers out there who know they're inexperienced and want to improve! But she was annoyed that the negative feedback came from someone in what they thought would be an anonymous review and it basically removed any respect for this guy she had and he continues to annoy her with passive-aggressive behavior.

It seems crazy to leave this job before giving this guy a shot at improving. It's unlikely you'll lose your job if you think long and hard on constructive criticism and offer it with your solutions in a one-on-one with your boss. If he gets overly defensive or hostile, that's when your job search should be a top priority. But it's worth doing this right (not by giving negative feedback in the survey) and seeing if maybe your inexperienced manager isn't a total lost cause.
posted by thesocietyfor at 7:45 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for this conversation and for sharing your insights and expertise. Not only do I have a plan, I feel at peace.
posted by Toto_tot at 7:34 AM on October 31, 2012

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