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How 360 Degree Feedback Shows Bosses Their Toxic Behaviour

A recent article by Martin Berman-Govine in the Human Resources Report, called ‘360-Degree Feedback: ‘Cure for Abusive Bosses?’ examines whether 360-Degree Feedback can reveal to the boss how negative their management style might be.

Here, we look at some of the points made by this article and add a few of our own insights.

What a boss thinks they know about their leadership style and what other people think of them in that role, can be two very different things. Some bosses believe they are always right and disregard criticism and feedback. Some are just not given feedback, perhaps because it seems obvious to employees they are not good at taking it.

Martin’s article begins by explaining that a deluge of feedback from all the employees may be just the tonic to cement the idea that there really is a perceived problem.

The feature cites Krister Ungerbroeck, who owns a consultancy called Courageous Growth. Ungerbroeck had a revelation that he himself had an issue, being a ‘tough boss’ and his family and friends confirmed this after his 360-Degree Feedback survey.

He asserts: “The data shows that the more of a narcissist the boss is, the more data points he needs to believe”.

Why ‘always right’ is often wrong

Whilst we believe his assertion about the need for a large amount of corroborative data is true – we’d add that there are many reasons why bosses think they don’t need feedback. For instance, they might believe that more junior people are not as experienced, so how can they ‘assess’ the skills of their manager? They may think that as they have succeeded till now, why should they change? And often there is a ‘this is who I am, so you’ll have to accept it’ reasoning at play.

Of course, senior people get used to people agreeing with them. Apart from the fact they’ve probably handpicked their team (in their own image – we all do this unthinkingly), the more senior you get, the less likely people are going to be to volunteer feedback, especially if you’re a bit scary anyway. So, 360-Degree Feedback is a great tool for allowing a manager to ask for, and get, feedback on how they’re perceived by others.

Whilst new managers can benefit from emotional intelligence assessments and training, so they recognise good work and treat people fairly, don’t pick on one manager for 360 – as singling them out for 360 will identify them as a problem person and this will affect the feedback they get.

It will also identify 360 as something that happens when you’re not doing a good job. To avoid these negative effects, run a 360 for a group of managers or leaders, so it’s seen as a positive tool for improvement, not just a stick to beat poor performers with. Not only will you generate the opportunity to address the problem but you might just generate some real positives too, across the leadership team, collectively.

Why do people need positive feedback?

Some bosses do not reward good work with praise and recognition – perhaps because, as Ungerbroeck states in Berman-Govine’s article, ‘that they themselves take their career success as all the positive feedback they need. They need to understand that others don’t have that high level of self-confidence and do need positive feedback’.

This is important in 360-Degree Feedback. Make sure the 360 is structured so that there is an opportunity for colleagues to provide feedback on strengths, as well as areas for improvement. Well-structured rating questions will help you do this, with free text giving context to those ratings.

There are undoubtedly knock-on effects and ripples out from the repetitive actions of abusive bosses, who effectively ‘cannot be pleased’ and make their employees feel a sense of unease when they retreat home, as well as in the workplace.

360-Degree Feedback is a beneficial exercise for everyone involved in a company. It gives all colleagues, not just the manager’s team, the opportunity to observe the manager’s activities. It’s an opportunity to give feedback without identifying every individual because the feedback is aggregated and anonymous.

It’s also a great way of identifying trends and common perceptions of that manager. For example, if one person believes that manager needs to delegate more effectively, then the manager in question may or may not take it on board – but if many, or all, of a team are saying it, then they really need to sit up and take notice.

Finally, provide managers who’ve been given 360 with the opportunity to discuss their feedback report, to understand it, so they can plan how they are going to use it.

360-Degree Feedback isn’t a miracle cure for difficult or toxic bosses but it’s an important step in helping them to understand and change their behaviour – if they have the willingness to do so.