What's your problem?

My company has undergone stressful structural changes in the past year, with staff driven hard to deliver results. We have reaped financial success but morale is low.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

 The boss is bad at feedback and has poor people skills. Several people have resigned without jobs to go to, because they felt so stressed and undervalued. Although the boss thanked us at Christmas and promised to organise an event to recognise our hard work, nothing has happened. She has now invited line managers on a team-building jolly.

Our team feels excluded and put out that not even our promised event has materialised. Can I broach the subject with my boss without seeming to put a dampener on the line managers' well-deserved reward?

A: Although you don't say so specifically, I take it that you're not just a member of this team but its leader. If that's the case, you owe it to both your team and your boss to take some action. The question becomes not whether you should do something, but what and how.

The first thing you must do is get your head straight. Confronting a boss with criticism, particularly when it involves drawing her attention to a failure to deliver on a public commitment, is a scary prospect. You can all too easily let your natural apprehension build up inside so that when you finally get to meet her, all the words come out wrong: you sound belligerent and resentful, and you then exaggerate your case - which first lays you open to counter-attack and then loses you the high ground. And don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because she's more important than you are, you needn't give any thought to her feelings. Bosses have feelings, too - and it's both kind and effective to respect them.

Say you have pride in your team and their achievements. Say you know they could be even more effective, even more motivated, if they felt a little more recognised. Say that a word of recognition from her, because of her seniority, would mean a great deal to them. And suggest a cheap and cheerful event of some kind - of the sort she herself mentioned only a month or two ago.

Just as important is what you shouldn't say. Don't mention the improved financial performance or the line managers' team-building jolly: you'll only sound money-grubbing and envious. Keep it as forward-looking and positive as you can and you have every chance of achieving something of real value, not only for your team but for the company as a whole.

You may well believe that this boss of yours doesn't deserve such a considerate approach - and you may well be right. But there's no point in your backing her into a corner and confronting her with her own demonstrable inadequacies - it's not your job. Your job is to do the best you can for your team, and if you get them more recognition and a small treat, that's all that should concern you.

With any luck, your company subscribes to some form of 360-degree assessment procedure. If so, that's the proper vehicle for you to record your boss's poor feedback and deficiency in people skills.

- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group; he is a non-executive director of WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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