Learn How to Effectively Give Constructive Feedback to Executives
When we imagine giving feedback in the workplace, new employees seem like the obvious subjects.
Less often do we think about giving feedback to those in higher-up positions, like executives.
But the truth is that everyone in an organization can benefit from constructive feedback. Nobody is perfect, so there is always room for improvement and professional growth. A positive feedback culture is a key to unlocking that potential.
Since executive positions have more responsibility, giving them regular feedback is arguably more critical, as strengthening their skills will benefit the company more.
Feedback for executives can come from above and below through direct reports, peer reviews, and suggestions from investors or board members.
In this article, we will talk about why HR professionals need to give feedback to executives and give some tips and examples on how to do just that.
💼 Why top executives also need feedback
It can be easy to look at those at the top and think they don't need any help.
While it is usually true that executives manage to achieve their position through ability and experience, that doesn't mean there isn't room for growth.
An executive may seem immune from feedback as the leader of your organization.
Still, a poorly performing executive can be very detrimental to a company. This risk is why 360-degree feedback at all levels is vital for successful businesses.
An executive willing and able to accept constructive feedback sets a positive example for the rest of the company: It promotes fairness and inspires others to pursue their professional development.
Executives promoting a positive feedback culture will build trust and cohesion among their team while setting an example of ownership and accountability.
💡 11 Tips for giving feedback to an executive
People operations professionals have a lot of opportunities to hone their feedback skills. However, it is harder to acquire experience providing feedback for executives since they are few and far between. Below are some tips you can employ to bolster your skills.
Give feedback in real-time
Since executives hold a unique position in your organization, you should address areas for improvement whenever a situation presents itself.
Don't sit and wait for annual reviews if an opportunity arises to give detailed feedback.
With real-time feedback, the details of a situation will be fresher in everyone's mind, allowing you to point out blind spots and opportunities for growth. Real-time feedback will also help the subject feel less targeted since there is a clear reason to have a discussion.
Gather feedback from different perspectives
When planning to deliver constructive feedback to executives, be sure to gather a range of opinions to ensure your suggestions are sound. People beneath the executive may view a situation very differently than those above or on par with them.
➡️ Check out these examples of upward feedback and questions for leadership. Then, ask yourself, does your organization encourage open communication from all levels?
Sometimes decisions have to be made for the company's betterment that may negatively affect certain groups. If some agree with a difficult decision, be sure to consider that.
However, suppose everyone agrees that an executive decision was poor. In that case, you can be more adamant and offer more reasons why.
Focus on generating insights
Feedback is only productive if it gets results. Simply pointing out a mistake will not automatically fix it. When giving critical feedback, especially to those with a lot on their plate, be sure you are entering the conversation with an open mind and forward-looking attitude.
An executive's unique position often forces them to make unprecedented decisions.
Tip: Use this opportunity to learn about their thought process and work together on future strategies.
Don't forget that executives get their roles for their ability to handle challenging situations!
As always, feedback should focus on results. Learning why an executive did what they did may shed light on their objectives. If the result of a decision wasn't ideal, work together on figuring out why and what could be done differently next time.
You can also avoid personal indictments or unnecessary tension by staying focused on the problem.
Tip: Be sure to approach the conversation as working together for the company's betterment, not criticizing a difficult decision.
Chances are, feedback for executives isn't going to be broad suggestions about general performance. Instead, feedback will likely come from particular situations, with specific successes or failures.
After all, a single decision from an executive can have drastic repercussions for a company.
Tip #1: Being specific about what happened, the result, and how to improve ensures everyone is on the same page.
Tip #2: Again, doing this in real-time and staying focused on the problem (not the person) will help you get results quickly and painlessly.
Giving feedback for the sake of giving feedback is not productive.
You should only be critiquing someone's performance when it contributes to the company's betterment.
Likewise, using kid gloves is unlikely to achieve the desired results.
When giving feedback, be honest about what the problem is, why it needs improvement, and how you will work together to make that happen.
It doesn't do any good to glaze over an issue, only for it to reappear down the road. Nor is it helpful to make a mountain out of a molehill just because review time has rolled around.
Understand the person
While it can be easy to forget this, executives are people too! They wake up and come to work just like the rest of us and will sometimes make mistakes.
Just as you would cater your feedback to a brand new employee to protect their morale, take care with how you deliver your feedback to an executive. You might even have an executive review themself to gain insight into their thought process and introspection.
➡️ Need inspiration for creating a self-evaluation process in your company? Check out 75 self-evaluation questions and our self-evaluation form template.
Knowing the person will help you address the situation more effectively. For example, if they are busy, acknowledge that and be concise.
Prepare for tension
While executives hold rare and often unique positions, it is important to remember that they are people too. Those with a lot of experience are more likely to understand and graciously accept feedback. Still, others will have similar reservations as most employees do.
You also may have to navigate situations where:
- An executive feels like feedback is beneath them.
- They are too busy for such meetings.
- They have a heightened sense of being targeted because of their prestigious position.
Tip: Knowing how to tactfully approach the discussion is vital for ensuring it goes smoothly and sets an example for the rest of the company.
Constructive vs. negative feedback
At first glance, the difference between constructive and negative feedback seems obvious. However, in practice, the first half of constructive feedback is often just negative feedback (presenting the problem). The difference is how you follow up.
The constructive element is key. Saying "here is a problem" is negative, but saying "here is a problem, and here's how we're going to work together to fix it" is constructive. Without a constructive follow-up, feedback can come off as judgmental rather than helpful.
Document the process
Documentation is a good idea whenever you have a meeting discussing performance or plans for the future. This is especially true when giving feedback, especially if you think there may be disagreement.
These notes will be valuable for tracking improvement in future feedback sessions and can even be provided to the employee. If any conflict arises, it is essential to note that as well.
Look to the future
The goal of feedback should always be to improve for the future. This statement holds value for all employees, from brand-new hires to those at the top.
Tip: Remember that the objective is to strengthen the company by supporting those who run it.
Creating a healthy feedback culture is essential. Thus, including executives in that process is key to setting a good example that promotes individual growth and professional development.
💬 9 Examples of feedback for executives
There are many different skills that an executive needs to be successful. Below is a list of critical competencies for effective leaders and some examples of how to give constructive feedback about them using the tips above.
At the budget meeting, you told investors that we would be allocating funds to reduce our carbon footprint. While we understand the value of such a move, the production team and board foresee a lot of challenges to accomplish that. Do you have a plan to make that happen?
Depth of industry knowledge
Taking on Builder B with the current supply chain issues seems to have been a mistake. As a result, we won't be able to meet their needs on the next project. Industry experts have been warning about potential inventory shortages this summer. Were you not aware?
I noticed you cut the social media and influencer marketing budget again this year. I know you come from a more traditional marketing background. Still, you need to understand the value of these new strategies and how they all work together to get customers to our website.
The sales team has been pushing for us to update our CRM software. I know many of us are familiar with the current system, but it lacks many features of newer options. Would you like to sit in on a demo and see for yourself?
Drive for results
Yesterday you accosted Dave in the breakroom for missing a deadline. While I appreciate your drive for results, we should handle this situation more privately in the future. Would you mind if I set up a meeting between the three of us to discuss his time management?
I see you moved our two most experienced team leaders to the overnight shift. I know we wanted to increase third-shift performance, but some of us fear that other shifts will suffer in the long run. Can you help me understand your strategy?
Coaching & talent development
Our last meeting discussed scheduling reviews for the three new sales associates. Here is a copy of the schedule we agreed upon. It looks like you've only met with Jim so far. Can I ask why? Maybe we can delegate this to the sales manager if you're too busy.
Strategic problem analysis
When you took on Builder B when we were already low on stock for Builder A, you forced us into a difficult situation. I understand it was a reasonable offer, but at this point, we might be unable to supply either account. Can we find a solution that doesn't negatively affect both accounts?
Driving strategic direction
You missed a few sales meetings this month when your lunch outings ran late. Should we schedule them for later in the afternoon? Your insight is vital for making critical decisions, and we want to ensure you are in attendance as much as possible.
These are just a handful of examples that employ the above tips while helping an executive improve key leadership competencies. You can apply the same methodology to your situation by understanding what works in these examples.
➡️ Create a culture of constructive feedback with Zavvy
Regular feedback for executives will help them fine-tune their valuable skills and lead more effectively.
By setting an example of career development and personal growth, your organization will be able to attract better talent and retain ambitious individuals already in your ranks.
There are many benefits of instilling a positive feedback culture in the workplace, and Zavvy can help with our 360-degree feedback software. You can strengthen your entire company by encouraging employees at all levels to strive for improvement.
See how your company can benefit with a free 30-minute demo!