Counsel & coach: The trouble with staff feedback
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Counsel & coach: The trouble with staff feedback

We put your workplace problems to an employment lawyer and an executive coach.

I just finished a six-week stint of acting in my EL2 supervisor's role while she took an extended leave of absence. On her return, she gave negative feedback on my performance based on comments from my branch head (I had ''talked too much at a senior meeting''). My superviser now refuses to act me up again. My branch head says he didn't really mean the comments, as I was the only subject-matter expert in the room, and that my superviser had taken him too seriously. My branch manager also told me I need to ''dumb it down a bit''. What are my options?

The Counsel

Jennifer Wyborn: The APS employment principles require decisions about promotions to be made fairly and based on merit. If the conduct of your supervisor or branch head is unfair or based on reasons unrelated to your capacity to perform the higher duties, you may have a valid concern. One avenue for redress might be through the dispute-resolution procedures set out in your agency's enterprise agreement.

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It seems at first glance, however, that there has been some miscommunication between everyone involved, and the situation might be able to be addressed by a meeting to discuss what happened and clarify any misunderstandings.

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The Coach

Jacqueline Jago: I'm with Jennifer on this one: this sounds like a lot of loose communication that you can put a quick stop to by pulling everyone together. I'm hearing a lot of ''ouch'' between the lines of your letter, and few managers will be able to sing with you from that song sheet, no matter how justified. It sounds like there were missteps in your line of command, but the question is: what juice do you want to squeeze from this lemon?

It might help to reframe the issue in operational terms, so the discussion is less about the matters most pressing for you and more about how things should function in the team. At EL1 level, you are able to take responsibility for management issues such as clarifying meeting etiquette, acting opportunities and delivering effective feedback. Given the level of emotional charge, you may wish to talk to someone whose advice you trust, first. In choosing a confidant, pick someone who will support you without buying into your version of things. Ideally, you will go into a meeting with your seniors with some concrete suggestions about how things could work better next time - and, ideally, you'll get a fair hearing.

Jennifer Wyborn is the lead partner of Meyer Vandenberg's employment practice. Jacqueline Jago is a certified executive coach. Send your workplace conundrums to counsel@canberratimes.com.au.