How to review my manager?
February 16, 2015 7:13 PM   Subscribe

I am in a post-grad school rotational program at a widely known tech firm. At the end of every rotation we are interviewed by HR and talk about what works and doesn't work for the program. The objective is to make to make the program better and to improve the experience of our future peers. My current manager is far from optimal and I'd like to deliver a review that is not overly negative but at the same time addresses present and future concerns. How do I do this in a balanced and positive mannner?

My manager is an overall good person who I consider a friend however he is nowhere close to being a great or even good manager. Here are some his issues:

1. Constantly stressed out and emotionally overwhelmed about his responsibilities.
2. Uneven mood swings that affect the ability of my peers to do work.
3. Very controlling/Micromanager
4. Very distracted. Does not keep structure in meetings, talks about totally random subjects.
5. Does not provide good feedback about work.

I have been in the workforce for about 10 years now and know the difference between a good and a bad boss. Unlike most of my prior bad bosses, my boss is a relatively nice guy and not jerk. It is important for me to deliver this message without ranting or making it seem like I have a personal vendetta as he has treated me relatively ok but it has been extremely difficult to work for him. What is the best way to deliver this message?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is the best way to deliver this message?

Not to do so unless you:
  1. Are willing to switch jobs immediately and action on the part of HR to correct your manager's deficiencies is necessary for you to stay at the tech firm.
  2. Have a job offer from another company in your hand to ensure that 1. is possible.
  3. Are more valuable to your company and less able to be replaced than your manager.
What are you trying to get out of this?

Unless you think there is a chance that your current manager will be your actual manager, there's nothing you can possibly get out of this discussion. In statistical terms, the expected value of this discussion is negative for you - there's no chance it can help you (because you won't have to deal with your manager after your rotation) and there's a chance it can hurt you (by burning bridges).

When dealing with HR, you should always realize their primary purpose is to keep the company away from legal liability - not to help you.

How do I do this in a balanced and positive mannner?

"I learned quite a bit from [Manager] and I appreciate the time I spent with him. Ultimately, I think I am more interested in [other area/manager] and I think I fit in better in [other area/manager] but I look forward to working with [Manager] in the future."
posted by saeculorum at 7:23 PM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Are they asking you to review this particular manager, or are they asking for more general program feedback? If it's the latter, just phrase your feedback about processes as opposed to being about your particular manager. For example, regarding each of your manager's issues in your list:

3. Instead of saying "Ron is a controlling micromanager," you could say, "Program participants would be able to develop better skills/work habits/whatever if they were given more space to work independently."
4. Rather than "Ron doesn't keep structure in meetings and goes on tangents," you could say, "It would help productivity if meetings were better structured and had clearer goals."
5. Instead of "Ron doesn't provide good feedback about work," you could say, "It would be helpful for program participants to receive more regular feedback on their performance."

#1 and 2 are more difficult. Personally, I'd avoid those topics if you are able to--and be diplomatic if they specifically ask you to rate your manager. It sounds like you are in a position of vulnerability.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:44 PM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

How sure you are that you feedback will be taken in account and will be considered seriously? How seriously are your peers taking this process? How seriously is your boss taking this process?

Unless you are reasonably sure that this is a serious exercise by HR with tangible impact, you are better off treating it as a formality.

if you are sure about giving them accurate inputs, there are few things that you can do ...

1. Talk about specific situations instead of generalizing it to manager.

For example: instead of saying the manager is constantly stressed out and emotionally overwhelmed, might want to relate an incident where you observed such behavior and its impact on the team.

2. Focus on impact on the team rather than manager behavior.

For example: talk more about how the team is unable to do some work rather than what the manager did.

Basically, you should aim on letting them draw the inferences while you focus the incidents. While you might want to mention the manager's shortcomings, make your focus on facts and impact.

3. Mix praise for manager along with the criticism. Usually, start with a praise and the follow it up with the criticism.

It is possible to provide negative feedback but you need to be very context sensitive about it ...

One last thing, pay attention to the non-verbal feedback from the HR person, if you think they are shutting down or are not being receptive to your inputs, stop immediately. An unresponsive or negative HR is the first sign that this interview is just for show and will not be used. In such a case, you are best off keeping your trap shut.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 7:54 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please consider that HR is generally not famous for nuanced responses. In most complaint situations, their primary goal will be to protect the company. Generally speaking, they will view the kind of feedback you describeen as part of either a case against you or a case against your manager.

If I were you, I would give feedback related to the suitability of the task for your rotation program, and leave out the direct feedback about the manager in question. If you really like the guy, then you might want to work out how you can give *him* the feedback directly.

"Bob, I really liked working for you. I think you're a great guy. I wanted to say to you I'm a little bit worried about your stress levels-- the workload seems incredibly high, and I notice you and everyone else paying the price for that. I have the chance to give feedback as part of my program. Is there any message you would like me to deliver to HR?"

If they provide a mentor/coach (non-HR) as part of your rotation, then you might consider saying something to her/him-- "Jane, I learned a lot from this assignment and I really think Bob is a great guy. Don't you agree? I do have some concerns with some of the reactions to workload stress I've seen in the team there. Can you give me your perspective?"

Honestly-- that kind of gentle lateral feedback will be much more effective in most organizations than talking to HR. (exceptions possible)
posted by frumiousb at 10:38 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wanted to say to you I'm a little bit worried about your stress levels-- the workload seems incredibly high, and I notice you and everyone else paying the price for that. I have the chance to give feedback as part of my program. Is there any message you would like me to deliver to HR?

Honestly, I would avoid even that. If he's high strung and/or thinks HR is primarily there to protect the company he'll probably feel alarmed and threatened. It'll sound like, "you are not on top of your own work load, people are complaining about you and I'm thinking of involving HR. Do you want to tell them or shall I?"

I mean, you could definitely talk to him about his stress but I would keep HR out of it in that conversation.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:04 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you can find feedback to give about the rotation and the rotation only - something like "when I first started, it was difficult to get clear feedback on X. I tackled this by doing Y, but for the next round of trainees it might be helpful to have formal monthly feedback/clearer standards/something else" - then I think you might get away with it. You need to make positive suggestions for easy improvements though, not criticism of the programme or colleagues. "Bob never gave me any feedback" is not going to help him, you, or the next group of trainees.
posted by tinkletown at 2:26 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, no. Don't evaluate your manager.

Come to HR with actionable suggestions and be as vague as possible about this manager in particular.

1. Formal weekly 1:1 with the manager to discuss status, roadblocks and successes.

2. Agendas for meetings should be distributed and followed.

The rest of it is stuff that's particular to this manager, not the program. Don't offer opinions on your manager's personality, or way of doing things. He's there for a reason and whatever it is, he brings value to his work.

One of the things that's worth learning about working in corporate America is that often everyone knows that a particular manager has major short-comings, they over look them because he does something they can't find in a manager who is actually good at managing people.

Also, never tell HR anything personal, or confidential. HR is not a therapist or a fixer. HR manages benefits and keeps people from exposing the company to litigation.

Many HR professionals are awesome at their jobs. I got laid off by a wonderful HR person. But I never thought for one minute that she was there to help me, she was there to make sure that I didn't make trouble for them later down the road.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:48 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

phrase your feedback about processes as opposed to being about your particular manager
You do it this way so that if HR is just making sure all the boxes are checked, they can do that and move on. However, if someone is looking to really improve the program and/or find the weak spots, this gives them a place to start.
posted by soelo at 7:28 AM on February 17, 2015

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