3 Techniques For Giving Feedback To The C-Suite


September 1, 2011

Real change in behavior, regardless of who is receiving it, is more likely to come from a delivery that is sincere and made in a respectful way.  In other words, be real and say it the way you would personally want to receive that type of message.  So, although you need to finesse them a little differently than you would a colleague, I use the following three techniques when giving feedback to members of the C-suite:

Be Direct-

Frame your feedback in the ‘Compliment- Concern- Question’ format.  Give the leader a sincere compliment on a behavior.  Then, state your concern.  Wrap it up with a question that asks the leader for their help in resolving the situation. The approach might sound like this, “Sir. I would like to talk with you for a moment. I’ve noticed you like to come to my cube each afternoon to talk with me about _________(insert sport, politics, or whatever topic here).   I really enjoy being able to have those conversations with you.  One concern I have though is that I am not going to be timely in meeting deadlines you set if I don’t focus on the project at hand.  Can you help me prioritize being able to meet your expectations, yet still have time for casual interactions?”

By framing your feedback in this way, you are still being direct and communicating that the leader’s behavior is the distraction.  You are also communicating that you want to do a good job and meet the leader’s deadlines and expectations. Finally, you are finessing the situation so that you’re asking the leader to LEAD you and guide you to the solution.  You are not coming on so strong that you are telling the leader what to do.  This is a good strategy to get your point across and still allow the leader to save face.  It can even work for more serious feedback when you disagree with a decision the leader has made.  By framing it with the Compliment- Concern- Question format, you can raise your concern without putting the leader on the defensive.

Don’t bring other people into it-

Don’t feel obligated to be the speaker for the group.  Even if other people have this issue, the second you tell the leader, “Sir, everyone on the team says…..”, you have just shut that leader’s mind down from hearing the rest of the sentence.  They are now in “human” mode and their brain is wondering who is talking about them behind their back.  Keep your feedback direct and speak on your own behalf.

Use your voice/ avoid e-mail-

This goes back to avoiding the indirect approach.  Your message may not have the tone you think it does and the message will not likely have the impact you’re desiring.  You can’t determine when the leader reads that message and it may not be the ideal time for them to receive it.  By saying the feedback out loud, directly to the leader, you are in control of the tone of your message as well as the timing of the delivery.

I once had a leader I respected tell me to give it to him straight when it came to feedback.  He’d tell me, “I’m just a guy.”  As a young woman at the time, it was  a good lesson to learn and since then, I’ve always thought of those in the C-suite in that way. They are human.  They want feedback like the rest of us and want it delivered in a respectful, direct way. I’m not saying it will be an easy conversation, but I guarantee that the leader will respect you more for having the conversation.

What do you think?  Do you have any examples to share?


  • Trish – great post as always – and having been in both chairs (giving feedback, and now in “C” suite) I value directness and real conversation more than ever. I can tell when people are filtering for me, or play better with me than with others – they play “up”. The real progress in organizations and life is through caring candor. Thanks again!

  • Good approach Trish. The key here is that the employee is taking action, not just sitting in their office space lamenting their situation. I always appreciate feedback from my team. It’s not personal, we’re all just trying to make our organizations as successful as they can be.

  • Great post it is so hard to figure out how to talk to people sometimes without offending them. This is especially true if you have an issue. I will try out this approach in our office, hopefully it will improve the communication within our team

  • I always hated when a supervisor would bring other people into what s/he was going to chide me on. I got to a point where I would be very combative to everybody I worked with after I would hear the dreaded “everyone else on the team says…” After I figured out it was just one person, then I got my revenge. I became QUITE EVIL when If figured out when someone sucked up and got the boss to act AGAINST me.

    There is nothing to add from my angle. I just wish that I wish EVERY boss would read stuff like this.

    And on an unrelated note: What the hell is this “write your own performance review” crap about?!? Yes, I have heard more than one person tell me that they were told to write their own performance review.

    What the hell is that about? Is this something coming out of HR conventions? I know I would say I am the GREATEST EMPLOYEE EVER (‘cos I am!!!!)… Just sounds like a bunch of bull hockey/double dutch/eleven herbs and spices/feel good/feel crappy balderdash to me…

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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