Career Q&A: Giving Feedback to Company Leaders

By Martin Yate Mar 15, 2016
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This week’s column addresses giving feedback to company leaders. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I work for a very fast-growing alcohol manufacturer that is managed and co-owned by a small group of friends who have done everything right to get to where they are now. However, a couple of the owners need some serious humility. The success seems to have gone to their heads. The way they talk to direct reports, answer phone calls, shame each other in front of colleagues and more is really embarrassing. None of them have ever been in supervisory roles before starting this company, so I'm working on training them.

I want to be taken seriously, but I'm the first dedicated HR person they've had, and when I make suggestions or discuss best practices, they occasionally smirk, say I'm "by the book" and essentially dismiss me from the conversation.

All I can do is make recommendations, and I sometimes feel weak or unimportant afterward. I'm never invited to management meetings where important decisions are made that affect everyone at the company, which is a big contrast to past positions I've held, where HR was viewed as a strategic advisor.

What’s your career advice? Should I focus on trying to teach these successful businesspeople how to be gracious so that their reputations aren't sullied with the employees and throughout our industry?

Human Resources Coordinator,
Pacific Northwest

Unless the owners have ears to hear, you cannot reason with them. They are experiencing the exhilaration of unimagined financial success for the first time. Your best efforts will be rejected, your opinions increasingly dismissed—and we both know that such a story continues downhill.

So what are your options? You talk about “a couple of the owners” acting like adolescents, which would imply that there are other partners who have a stronger grip on reality. I think you need to move forward on two concurrent fronts:

  • Gaining traction for your function and respect for your expertise.
  • Examining your options.

You might make more progress by adapting to the realities. In your situation, I would identify and prioritize all the HR imperatives the company is facing and highlight the issues and behaviors that can have costly legal ramifications. Back them up with due diligence and case law examples of the cost of inaction.

Then I would strive to build consensus by persuading the more mature owners—in private, before the more public meetings happen—of appropriate courses for given situations. In the open meeting, you introduce a topic and, rather than making the argument yourself, turn to those who understand the importance of your proposed strategies for their opinions on appropriate courses.

The owners will listen to their respected partners. When your opinions are championed by influential executives, your value will be appreciated by sober minds. The result? My bet is that there is an inner circle among the partners, a group with which you can quietly build respect and influence.

This is an initiative that takes time, so, hedging your bets, it only makes sense to examine your options. By that I mean looking to your resume and your LinkedIn profile, attending Society for Human Resource Management chapter meetings, and generally becoming an active part of your professional community. Do this now, while remaining fully committed to the job (yes, you can and must do both), and you will have a more fertile networking environment for a confidential job search should one become necessary.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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