A lack of upward feedback in an organization can negatively affect a company’s efforts to positively influence business outcomes. The matter is made worse in organizations where attitudes and actions rigidly enforce hierarchical organizational structures. Such structures separate one department from another, and keep employees far from the company’s leaders. A structurally imposed silence can undermine collaboration within and across teams and hamper organizational learning.
But in companies that are supportive of effective upward communication, employees attempt to connect with more senior employees in spite of a company's organizational structure. They do so because they are confident in how their conversations will be interpreted, in part because of the manner in which they themselves communicate. Working in such an organization gives you the opportunity to communicate ideas, questions, comments and concerns to those who may be in a better position to effect change.
Discuss Issues Openly and Honestly
You were hired because you possess a certain expertise. That expertise is of little value, however, unless you rely on it to complete your work activities, evaluate related challenges and alert your boss to issues that require his assistance to resolve. When you do so, bring facts to back up your statements. Then convey the information, such as your ability to meet a particular deadline, directly and confidently.
Convey Solutions Rather than Problems
Don't just communicate problems you encounter and the expectation that your boss will address them. Instead, evaluate the problem, identify alternative solutions, select the best one and communicate that information to your boss. In preparing for this conversation, prepare thoughtful answers to the questions your boss might ask. Thinking ahead and addressing issues demonstrates your value as an employee.
Begin Conversations at the Appropriate Time
Ask your boss if she prefers a one-on-one detailed discussion, or if a summary presented in an e-mail will do. Also ask your boss to specify the day and time that is best for any needed in-person conversation. Once you identify you supervisor’s preferred mode of communication, you both will be more likely to exchange the appropriate information at the appropriate time.
A responsibility of every boss is to evaluate an employee’s work, so ask for direct feedback. Unless you are aware of your responsibilities and knowledgeable in the way you should complete and submit your work, you can’t do a good job. Once you have the conversation, be receptive to and act on the feedback, whether it is positive or negative.
Demonstrate a Willingness to Help Others
If you’re confident you are completing your work in a timely and effective way, it’s appropriate to ask your boss if he or someone else has a project you might support. Doing so demonstrates your commitment to the performance of your boss, other employees and the company, rather than just your own assigned duties. It also may allow you to learn new skills, demonstrate your abilities to upper management and make you more competitive when an opportunity for a promotion appears.
Speak Using a Respectful Tone of Voice
People with a position in a company that’s higher than your own have earned that spot for a variety of reasons, such as their skills, their relationships with other employees or a willingness to commit to essential projects. For that reason alone, your boss is worthy of your respect. To act otherwise threatens his willingness to support you and your reputation with other leaders in your company.
Interact in an Authentic Way
Be supportive of your boss and other members of your team at all times. However, it’s inappropriate to make too many grand gestures to attempt to gain his approval and support. You should let your work speak for you, not your willingness to fill any and all of your supervisor’s needs. Treat him as you would another valued co-worker … namely, be reliable, trustworthy and respectful.
Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.