The best way to avoid problems and overcome barriers in a company is simple: Listen to the experiences and opinions of your employees. Although listening to negative feedback can feel challenging to leaders, it is one of the most valuable sources of risk intelligence.
In this episode, Grace explains the three ways for frustrated employees offer their opinions and which 5 steps will help you create Healthy Feedback Loops in your organization.
WWB 007: Honeybee, Scorpion, and Nuclear Employees [Podcast]
05/28/2020 – 19 minutes 07 seconds
Highlights and Take-Aways
Most of us find it really difficult to hear negative feedback: information that people share when they feel frustrated and need to see change happen. Sometimes, this is done in a way that can be destructive.
I decided to explore these questions:
Why do employees get so angry? Why do some of them try to destroy the company where they work? What are the root causes?
In my research, I have discovered that frustrated employees use 3 different approaches when they don’t feel heard. If they are trying to communicated a problem but there is no mechanism to make sure their feedback is transformed into action, or they feel that nobody is listening to the problems that exist in the organization, they end up taking matters into their own hands.
Let’s examine what occurs for employees when nobody seems to be listening, and how you as an owner or manager can create a system to bring about meaningful change.
Frustrated Employee #1: Honeybee
The first type of employee is what I call the Honeybee.
In my garden, bees are gorgeous little creatures with distinct personalities. They also have a very important job to do, by collecting pollen and pollinating many crops that we need for survival. Honeybees have 1 type of self-defense: their stinger is only used in an emergency, because once they use it they will die. They are very gentle and don’t want to harm anyone, but they will use their stinger if they or their hive are in danger.
A Honeybee sees harm and injustice in their organization. They notice things are wrong, and they want to speak up… but they don’t want to hurt anyone in the process. If they aren’t heard, however, a Honeybee Employee will risk their job or social standing to move that information up the chain of command.
This type of employee is willing to work with the management team to see a positive outcome, but they often don’t know how to make that happen. If they use their “stinger,” they know it could result in a negative outcome for them—but they’re willing to take that risk for the greater good.
Frustrated Employee #2: Scorpion
The second type of employee is the Scorpion.
This is a fairly dangerous creature—much more than the honeybee. Scorpions are predatory. They look for opportunities to cause harm.
While it is possible to bring this person back around and reverse a toxic situation, it is much more difficult.
This type of employee has opinions that were never fully heard by the executive leadership team. There is no channel for them to communicate problems and suggest ways to create a different outcome. They also tend to have a very vocal and negative attitude toward leaders; they may share rumors or even spark a rebellion among the staff. What they are really trying to do is create change; they’re just going about it the wrong way. And they are willing to do this at any cost.
A Scorpion employee is willing to be fired, humiliated, or even taken to court because they feel unheard and believe their behavior is justified.
These types of staff are much more difficult to manage, because they don’t care as much about the consequences. But at the root, they really want to make a difference, and they really care about the issues they’re bringing up… even if it’s done in a defiant, angry way.
To manage a Scorpion employee, you need to tread lightly because you don’t want to push them into the next level. But you also can’t back down; as a leader, you should listen and respond with empathy, but you also need to remain in control of the business and not allow rebellion. It takes careful management to mitigate arguments from a Scorpion Employee, but it is possible to bring them around if you connect with their need to feel heard, acknowledge the leaders’ mistakes, and demonstrate that you are making changes that will reverse the damage.
Frustrated Employee #3: Nuclear Blast
An employee may start out as a Honeybee, or may become a Scorpion by trying to incite change at any cost… but those two levels aren’t acknowledged and properly managed through a Healthy Feedback Loop process, they may turn into the third and most destructive type of employee: the Nuclear Blast.
When I was thinking about this topic, I wondered: What could be more dangerous than a scorpion? There are many different animals and creatures that can cause harm: Black widow spiders, sharks, tigers, poisonous tree frogs.
But we can generally manage these. A nuclear blast, on the other hand, is something that is totally un-manageable. It goes beyond what an organization can withstand.
And that’s the point. Someone who is unconcerned about causing harm or damage to their company is willing to risk almost anything to make their voice heard. They don’t really care about the consequences.
Check out other articles about nuclear disasters:
This type of person wants to punish leaders. They are not concerned about the results; they don’t care if the organization improves. This could be a consequence of their resentment building for years.
A Nuclear Blast Employee tends to act in response to a lack of feeling respected. Again, it comes back to a need to feel heard and realizing that changes are not happening, no matter how hard they tried to bring about a new reality.
Their goal is to destroy the company, humiliate the owners, and punish anyone who stands up for the company.
It is very difficult to reason with this type of employee. Typically, they will use tactics that can be difficult to fight—cyberterrorism, libel, and public relations disasters that require an expert to help reverse.
It is important to not make missteps when you have a Nuclear Blast Employee, because they can wreak damage to you personally and put you in danger through doxing (revealing private and identifiable details to a wide audience) or online threats.
We are seeing an increase in Nuclear Blast responses more frequently, partly because it’s so easy to spread information online and spin a story to fit a false narrative, but also because many employees do not feel heard.
I think one of the biggest problems business owners need to face is this:
Are you listening to feedback of ALL of your staff, especially those who are emotionally invested in wanting the organization to succeed?
Some people are more interested in seeing change happen. When you put a mechanism in place to gather feedback and visibly show that you are responding to what your employees say, there’s a much higher chance that all employees will feel respected and that their opinions matter. But without a method to collect and analyze feedback, especially as the organization grows and the structure becomes more segmented, it is nearly impossible for staff at the foundational level to be assured that their input will make any difference.
Doubt and Mistrust Toward Management
Speaking from personal experience, I know that employee surveys and even anonymous feedback methods aren’t very effective. Leaders can still find out who gave the information. These methods are often seen with mistrust, especially if previous attempts to communicate problems were poorly handled. Many staff feel a sense of mistrust toward managers. A negative point of view, or questioning the decisions of leaders, is often met with leadership resistance.
In my opinion, questioning leaders is important. It is valid to wonder whether people in charge are doing the right thing—especially if you don’t see results happening.
Make sure you’re listening to feedback from your 4 types of foundational staff. Top leaders tend to make strategic decisions for the organization and look at a long-term view for growing the company. Managers are in charge of day-to-day operations. And then there’s Foundational Staff, who are essential to the organization but who are typically the lowest paid and the least appreciated.
The 4 types of Foundational Staff include:
Direct Patient or Direct Customer Care
- Serve the needs of customers
Housekeeping and Sanitation
- Clean, disinfect, and organize (which in the healthcare field is absolutely essential)
Food Service and Dietary
- Even if your company doesn’t serve meals, these individuals provide sustenance and nourishment.
Maintenance and Repair
- Keep conditions safe and fix anything that is broken
These staff members are often unappreciated. They also don’t have a lot of say in how things happen or what should change. In my experience of working with Foundational Staff, it’s clear that they have a lot of value to give but most don’t know how to share their perspective without fearing that they will be penalized for offering their opinions.
It’s really important to create a culture that does not penalize employees from offering a negative point of view, or for respectfully questioning the decisions that leaders make.
Obviously you don’t want someone coming in, guns blazing, threatening to destroy what you’ve built. But if that person has solid reasoning about why they are trying to stop something bad from continuing, then it’s really worth listening to WHY.
If you want to avoid situations with a Scorpion Employee who is trying to create change at any cost by spreading rumors and causing a rebellion, or avoid a Nuclear Blast Employee who takes extreme measures and causing damage and to destroy and humiliate your company, it’s helpful to create a mechanism that rewards any type of feedback… even if it means you will hear criticisms of what you’re doing.
The number 1 goal is that you must be willing to hear unpleasant truths about your own organization: things that are not very nice to hear, even if they’re true. Great leaders acknowledge that there is value in hearing negative feedback.
I call this the Devil’s Advocate perspective: A person who is invited to offer views that are in opposition to commonly held ones, in order to avoid making bad decisions. This is someone who looks for things that could go wrong, policies that could be harmful, or ways that someone could take advantage. Welcoming negative perspectives from your Devil’s Advocates will make it easier to identify possible risks and keep the company safe.
Capturing Feedback in a Healthy Way
Honeybee employees offer a perspective of what is going wrong, and they take a big risk by trying to get the attention of leaders. If you want to increase your risk intelligence and you’re willing to hear things that might not be comfortable, you will avoid potential pitfalls and see new opportunities for growth by listening to employees like the Honeybee, who often offer good advice and ideas for how to minimize damage and stop harm. This information can increase the value of your company and serve customers better.
But if you ignore a Honeybee, they could turn into a Scorpion and create rebellion, dissent, and problems that are difficult to manage and costly to reverse. Owners who refuse to respond to Scorpions are at high risk of a Nuclear Blast from someone who wants to destroy and humiliate, without wanting to see a positive change.
Obviously, it’s best for an organization’s leaders to listen to employees who want to offer advice but may state it in a way that is not easy to hear. In order to capture the information and act on it, it’s important to have a system.
I recommend using a 5-step system called the Healthy Feedback Loop.
- It starts with leaders who are open to hearing negative information. I call them Empathetic Leaders: someone who can step into the role of employees and truly feel their pain.
- The second step is to establish a culture that does not punish or penalize anyone who offers their perspective.
- The third step is to create mechanisms to collect feedback without making anyone feel embarrassed, concerned about how the information will be used, or skeptical that it will make a meaningful difference.
- Fourth, create an analytic framework to review and evaluate the information both quantitatively and qualitatively. This allows you to determine how to act upon the ideas you’ve collected.
- Finally, even if some feedback will not be applied, it should always have follow-through in a visible way. You have to acknowledge that the feedback was useful, even if changes can’t happen right away. Those who took the time to share their experiences added value to your company.
The most important thing a leader can do is create a culture where negative information and unpleasant realities are not ignored or pushed aside.
Leaders of truly successful companies really listen to the feedback of people who want to reverse injustice and stop causing harm. By putting these steps in place, you’ll not only be able to gather lots of great information about what could be going wrong before it happens, but you also prove to employees that you truly care about their perspective and you value what they do for the organization. Someone in a top leadership position can’t possibly know all the things that are going wrong at the bottom. (I call this Corporate Ladder Bias).
When you use a system to collect negative perspectives and show that you appreciate them, you will have the ultimate risk management tool. By applying information gathered from all over your organization, identifying all things that could be going wrong, and asking your staff to share how they would suggest fixing it, your decisions will allow your company to be more successful than it has ever been before.
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Interested in hearing how you can reverse staff turnover and increase your profit margins? Find out more here.
Grace LaConte is a business strategist, writer, and workplace equity advocate whose risk management graphics are used around the globe. She specializes in finding hidden threats and opportunities in organizations that employ working parents. Grace is the host of the What’s Wrong with Your Business? Podcast, which provides tools to adapt in a rapidly changing market.