The Vector View on Receiving Feedback: Some Practical Considerations in Designing 360° Feedback for Managers

April 30th, 2015   •   no comments   

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about Vector Group’s View on Effectively Giving Feedback to Improve Performance with a promise to provide some additional information on receiving feedback. I also wrote a blog in February touching briefly on using organizational values in a 360° feedback survey for development of management and leadership. I may expand on the actual development of the survey instrument in an upcoming blog.

Organizational values, representative behavioral practices and 360° feedback surveys provide the essential foundation for a number of strategic initiatives involving a business enterprise including culture change, post M&A cultural integration, change management and management and leadership development. Changing something within an organization boils down to changing how people behave. It is as simple as that. People do not change unless first, there is something in it for them (another topic) and secondly, they know what specifically needs to change in their own behavior.

Just as a reminder in using organizational values and practices, Vector Group consultants recently worked with a client in identifying organizational values and establishing representative practices. Based on our organizational scan (diagnosis or assessment), we found some areas in the organization (processes) working less than effectively and identified some behaviors driving that lack of effectiveness. Some representative quotes from our report to our client include:

• No accountability—it all depends on who you know and what circle you are in
• Processes are convoluted or “spaghettied”
• Quality usually takes a backseat to timeliness
• Little to no recognition of a “job well done”
• Questions as to how the work gets done around “the XXX company”
• Only those with “good attitudes” get noticed and rewarded
• Jobs get balled up in turf battles as to who can work on what
• Feedback comes only when something gets screwed up
• Reluctance to confront performance issues
• Managers will not release people to work on other projects if they have the skills

Each of the aforementioned issues represents patterns we found in some areas needing focus and improvement. Meeting with their executive team, we enabled them to come up with eight organizational values critical to the organization’s success. We then facilitated an offsite with their entire management group to have them create behavioral practices to support those eight values. They actually came up with seven or eight practices for each value. A sampling of specific values and their accompanying practices are as follows:


1. Shares power in pursuit of organizational objectives
2. Makes sure there is an open exchange of views among team members
3. Puts the needs of the organization above those of any work unit when resolving conflicting demands


1. Puts the interests of the organization above those of individuals or single groups
2. Makes sure there is an open exchange of views among all parties
3. Approaches other units involved in problems with a collaborative stance, focusing on the future

Performance Management

1. Readily recognizes and rewards good performance
2. Gives informal feedback to people on a regular basis
3. Establishes clear, specific objectives and performance measures for staff


1. Holds staff accountable for achieving results, challenging excuses
2. Follows up on responsibilities delegated to others to ensure that performance has met expectations
3. Constructively challenges “excuses” others may give for


1. Demonstrates a sense of urgency and energy to achieve results
2. Willing to take necessary action as soon as the need is apparent
3. Demonstrates a preference for action rather than extensive reflection or analysis

Once the organization creates these values and practices, it is very simple for Vector Group consultants to custom design and administer the 360° feedback survey instrument. When designing such an instrument, we use an ipsative array of data for a more useful application of feedback for managers.

Ipsative Data

Most who read this blog are probably not familiar at all with ipsative data. At Vector Group, with our 30+ years of experience we know that each organization is unique with unique cultures (collective behavior) and unique ways of doing things. Rather than using a normative approach in handling the data, we use an ipsative array or format of the findings that is quite different from the use of percentiles.

Normative data compares the results for people taking the survey to some “ideal” standard created to show what the survey designers consider normal or the right way for managers to behave. Using percentiles compares one manager’s scores to some generic average of a given group. Ipsative merely means that we reference the data to individual scores rather than to group scores of any kind. Percentiles tell managers how well they compare to some generic average of a given group.

Do you remember what I said previously about the uniqueness of organizations? Consider this. What might work well in one organization may not work very well at all in another organization. Think about your own organization. Do you really believe that comparing your management to some homogenized group of managers somewhere else would be helpful in achieving your own organization’s hoped for results?

Using an example from the tennis world, percentiles tell players how they rank or their seed placing for a given tournament. Ipsative data describes strengths and weaknesses for an individual’s “level of play.” Ipsative data tells a player that he or she may have a weak backhand but have a strong serve. One could have ipsative data identical to Vanessa or Serena Williams that would show that for relative “levels of play” each should work on backhands and try to take advantage of situations where you can use your strong serves. The ipsative data provides better information on how to improve your game. Everyone, including the Williams sisters, can improve their game.

Since I do not play tennis, let us look at golf. Watching Jordon Spieth winning the recent 2015 Masters’ Tournament enthralled those of us who watched. His play was incredible finishing -18 under par. I’ve been playing golf since high school and probably peaked in my 20s. Some 45+ years later, I do still try to improve my game. If I took a golf survey or test comparing my skills with Jordon Spieth’s, what would that tell me? On a percentile basis, my scores would be MISERABLE compared with his. If I took that same survey based only on my average, I would have a much clearer picture of my own level of play.

Whether it is tennis, golf or another sport or activity, anyone can improve his or her game. The same is true for managers. Everyone (even the best managers) can improve. Ipsative data provides them with information to help them determine where they need to improve and what strengths should be their foundations and mainstays.

Ipsative Data Allows for Variety of Context

Another advantage of ipsative data is that it allows for a wide variety of contexts. While percentiles assume that there is one ideal way to manage to which all managers should aspire, ipsative data allows for the variety of environments within which managers manage. Managers of twenty-year veteran Ph.D. research scientists should manage them differently than managers of clerical data entry clerks with high school diplomas who have been with the company only six months.

Although both managers will deal with the same or similar issues such as autonomy, delegation, accountability, decision-making, and risk-taking, for example, they will handle those issues very differently with the two groups. In the same way, the process that the group is going through will alter what the manager should be doing. A manager who is downsizing an organization should be behaving very differently than one who is growing the organization.

Format of Data

Managers will receive their average scores. This is the average of all items from all reports in a single group. A peer average will reflect all items as reported by all peers. A subordinate average will reflect all items as reported by all subordinates. These scores may be very similar or they may be quite different. The relationship with peers is different from the relationship with subordinates and a manager probably should be behaving somewhat differently with the two groups.

Since a manager’s personal average is his or her own, no one else needs to know what that average is. This is particularly helpful in management or leadership development programs because each manager can share his or her data with others at no risk.

A Case Study (How we instructed one client organization’s top managers who attended a 5 1/2 day leadership development program):

You will receive several pages of feedback data over the next five days that ties directly to your company’s values. Each of the pages will provide a graphic representation of how you, your boss, your peers and your subordinates rate each of the items defining that value in relation to your overall average. You will begin to see how each sees your strengths and weaknesses.

You will all have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, one group views a practice as a relative strength and another group sees it as a weakness. This will likely be due to the difference in the relationships with each group. For example, if you frequently give strong direction regarding how you want a task completed, subordinates may view this as a strength while your peers may view it as a weakness.

The graphs will depict how many standard deviations away from your overall averages each group rates each item.  This attached sample is an actual sanitized profile. Our sister organization, Vector Data Services (VDS) located at the Wharton School of Business actually generates these reports.

Vector Group_360 Feedback Report for John or Jane Doe_VDS_v1 example

Understanding Your Feedback Data

Several weeks ago, you gave your peers and direct reports a questionnaire to fill out on your management practices. We have taken that information and prepared a profile of your relative strengths. Here are the steps you should walk through to make the best use of your data.

1. You will receive the data together with the list of practices associated with that value.

2. Examine the results, and walk through the materials you receive, noting any points you can explore with the group. [Remember that you and you alone, decide what you will and will not share with the group.]

3. Meet with the group.

4. Share any or all of the data with the group.

5. Make suggestions and try to counsel each other as to what implications your data has for the management of your area and how you can maximize the implementation of your practices.

6. Take time to prepare an action plan to deal with the practices on which you have chosen to concentrate.

Reactions People Can Have to Receiving Bad News

Bad news affects us all in certain ways just as any kind of change affects different people differently at different times. We look at the reactions people predictably experience in receiving formative feedback and describe these as stages of grief and acceptance. It is the pattern often found when people are victims of some deep personal crisis. The stages usually include:

• Denial
• Anger
• Rationalization
• Acceptance
• Renewed Action

In the case of receiving feedback, here are some comments indicative of each stage in this grief pattern:

Denial – “This isn’t my job.” “You must have gotten the data wrong.”

• Anger – “Why are they giving me this information? I’ve got enough on my plate without this!”

Rationalization – “Well, I’m bound to be weak on something, so why be concerned about this?”

Acceptance – “They’re right, maybe I could spend a bit more time helping my subordinates.”

Renewed Action – “I’m going to sit down with each of my employees when I go back to the office and make sure they are clear on their objectives.”

In order to learn from the information you received, you need to pass through all stages. It is possible to be “stuck” at any stage in the process, but to do so is to lose the opportunity to learn and grow from the information received, and to improve the relationship we have with our subordinates and peers.

How to Put Your Feedback Data in Perspective

You must keep in mind that the data that you receive this week is only one-third of the data that you need to put things in perspective. The second third is the context within which you are managing. The last third is the information gained in discussions with those who completed the surveys.

For example, the context within which you manage and the makeup of the people you do manage will determine much of how you should manage. If you are downsizing a team, you will behave differently than if you are building a team. If you are downsizing, it may be very appropriate to score low on participative management practices. If you are managing long-term tenure, professional employees you may manage differently than if you are managing new-hire clerical employees. New hires probably need more control and direction than long-term employees do. Scoring low on giving direction may be appropriate for a long-term tenure group.

Most of the contextual information will come from your assessment of what you are trying to do with your team. However, some will come from discussions with your people. Only through a discussion with them will you be able to be sure of the messages they intended to send. For example, you may score low on an item, but they may say that the item is not important to them or that it does not have a negative impact on their ability to get the job done. If this is the case, it is probably inappropriate to spend much time working to strengthen this practice.

You also need to talk to the team to determine how they were interpreting some items–what specific examples were they relating to a given practice. You need to compile all of this information in order to ensure that you are accurately analyzing your data and are putting it into the proper perspective for your action planning.

Sources of Help

You have several sources of help for your action planning and putting your data into the appropriate perspective. During this week and the follow-up activities, you will have access to our consultants. You will be building a support team with other managers during this week and can use them as an on-going source of advice and a sounding board for your plans. Vector Group Consultants will also work with employees in Human Resources and Organizational Development to build additional internal resources for you.

What We Can Provide

Vector Group continues to provide tools, methodologies and a transfer of knowledge to our client organizations and this 360° feedback process is but one of them. We help our clients decide on specific values that will carry their organizations forward. We also have a bank of several thousand management practices that we willingly provide to help start the process of creating a customized 360° survey instrument. As stated above, we work with Vector Data Services (VDS) to produce these reasonably priced 360° feedback reports. Using an online survey system, confidentiality is assured.

We continually take a strong position against the use of off-the-shelf generic survey instruments that do not truly reflect the realities of a specific organization. We described organizational culture and the nuances and uniqueness of organizations in other blogs. Comparing managers to some sort of prescribed “ideal” can do more harm than good at worst and would lead to less than effective results at best.

With a few smart people in place, any business can design and create a highly effective 360° feedback instrument on a cost-effective basis. With some initial coaching and a walkthrough, we can guide clients to achievable results.

As always, we are open to discussing any of your questions, issues or concerns.

©Vector Group, Inc., 2015



Gary W. Craig is Managing Partner and COO for Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at [email protected]. Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure all align to achieve breakthrough success. Please visit our website at or call us at (800) 566-0877.

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