Responding to bad feedback: Four management types

360 degree feedback

Sometimes managers or leaders receive “bad” feedback. Few of us could honestly say that we relish this as a ‘learning opportunity’. Indeed, Voice Project’s 360 degree survey data shows that responding well to feedback is one of the weakest areas of performance for most leaders. That said, some managers will explore and embrace feedback, whilst others would prefer to ignore it.

Imagine a senior manager in your organisation just received the employee survey report for their work area. The report shows that the team is strongly dissatisfied with some organisational practices. How do you think the manager would respond?

Four Management Types

Perhaps the manager would conform to one of the four management types that I’ve encountered:

feeling hurt from 360 degree feedback
The Hurt
Overreacts to feedback and makes statements like:
“My team hates me” or
“I might as well resign”

anger from 360 degree feedback
The Hunter
Tries to work out who provided the critical feedback -
“I’ve got a couple of people in my team who are negative about everything.”

The hunter can also look for reasons to dismiss team feedback e.g.
“not everyone in my team responded to the survey, if they had the results would be different.”

hiding from 360 degree feedback
The Hider
Pretends the report never arrived and files it away in a folder called “Later”.
The hider can also use other work priorities as an excuse to ignore survey feedback
“I’m too busy right now with X”.

hearing from 360 degree feedback
The Hearer
Explores both positive and negative feedback with their team and listens to the discussion. Works with their team to identify next steps for dealing with key issues.

Positive Responses To Feedback

I believe that when managers understand the importance of survey feedback and have sufficient support, they will push through their initial emotional reactions to become “hearers” who explore the feedback provided in survey reports. The benefits of manager’s hearing feedback seem obvious. Indeed, Voice Project research shows a significant link between acting on survey feedback and having highly engaged employees.

How to help managers hear feedback

Good survey implementation and follow-up creates the conditions to maximise the number of managers who respond constructively to “bad” feedback. Some of the key areas to implement well include:

  1. Communicate a clear purpose – establish a clear purpose for the survey so that managers know the benefits of actioning employee feedback. Make sure the survey is endorsed by senior leaders and is seen as an important organisational initiative.
  2. Maximise employee participation – if the response rate from the team is high, then there is an even more compelling case for managers to respond to the feedback.
  3. Senior leader role modelling – cascade feedback from the top of the organisation, with the CEO openly sharing the survey results with their leadership team and running “all hands” sessions with staff.
  4. Support & upskill managers – HR can support managers by being available to help discuss the results with individual managers. Guidelines and tools for running feedback sessions can assist line managers to explore the feedback with their teams.
  5. Monitoring – HR can track that feedback sessions have occurred within a set time period and follow up when there have been delays. This could be reported at regular intervals to the senior leadership team.

I’d be keen to hear if you’ve encountered other ways managers respond to bad feedback. Are there other management types? What other ways have you used to help managers respond constructively to bad feedback? Please comment below.