360-Degree Feedback: ‘Cure’ for Abusive Bosses?

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

A deluge of “360-degree feedback” from everyone around an abusive boss may be the only way to show him the error of his ways, consultants say.

“The data shows that the more of a narcissist the boss is, the more data points he needs to believe” he has a problem, Krister Ungerbroeck, who owns the St. Louis-based consultancy Courageous Growth, told Bloomberg BNA May 25.

Ungerbroeck, who retired in 2016 as chief executive officer of Ungerbroeck Software International, which he still owns, said he speaks from personal experience and that he himself required a 360-degree survey to show him that he was a “tough boss.” That meant bringing in friends and family to tell him how he came across, he said.

“For me, if it had only been business, I would have said it’s working for me because I built a company successfully,” he said. But the personal input convinced him he had a problem, he said. One professional pointed out to him that his “leadership style” was likely tied to his being raised in a home where criticism wasn’t allowed, he said, and he was amazed at this correct insight from someone who hadn’t known him as a child.

Workplace psychologist Ilona Jerabek pointed to a blog post she helped write about a test her Montreal-based firm, PsychTests, administered to 265 people. The “Turnover Probability Test” sought to analyze why employees who are actively searching for a new position want to leave their jobs. It found, for example, that 56 percent “explain that their manager does not provide employees with sufficient opportunities to develop their skills” and that “53 percent claim that management fails to acknowledge or recognize hard work/achievements,” while four in 10 “assert that management doesn’t treat employees fairly.”

“Have managers take a 360 assessment with employees rating their manager’s performance,” Jerabek said. “There’s a good chance it will bring issues to light that the company may not have been aware of.” New managers can benefit from “an emotional intelligence assessment and training program,” she added.

The lack of recognition for employee achievements comes from some hard-driving managers’ personal psychology, Ungerbroeck said. When he works with CEOs and other C-level executives, he finds that “they tend to work under the assumption that people don’t need positive feedback,” he said. That’s because 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,” Ungerbroeck said.

There can be hidden costs for these “type A” managers, as well. A study published online April 17 in the Academy of Management Journal found that “abusive behavior and perceived incivility harm leaders’ subsequent well-being as indicated by their reduced need fulfillment and ability to relax at home.” The 360-degree feedback may be good for everyone involved, then.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

For More Information

The Academy of Management Journal article abstract can be found at http://amj.aom.org/content/early/2017/04/17/amj.2015.1061.

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