Measuring managers is a delicate business

How do you assess the assessors?

SO how possible is it really to give an honest appraisal of your boss in an “upward appraisal” — where you give your boss feedback? Or if you’re the boss, how do you feel about having a subordinate potentially influence your review?

An article on the Chartered Management Institute’s website says upward appraisal is when people give information on a manager's performance, while 360 degree appraisal extends the use of appraisers to people from all around the manager, rather than just reporting staff (for example, it may also include peers, customers or suppliers).

So can they work? The article says they do, but only if there is a culture where managers are willing to listen and learn.

“There is no point in introducing upward or 360 degree appraisal in organisations where employees are afraid to say anything other than what they think their bosses want them to say.”

The article acknowledges that there is often opposition to upward or 360 degree appraisals.

“It is essential that individuals understand what the process is aiming to achieve and that they feel confident that there is no hidden agenda. Participants should be encouraged to air their worries and objections; it can be useful to start with a pilot group of volunteers who are aware that the scheme is the teething stage.”

The article says such upward appraisals are more often used for training and development identification rather than pay decisions, and his point is made in an article by David Lassiter that was originally published in HR Executive Magazineand reproduced on Leadership Advantage.

“If 360 feedback is linked to compensation decisions, it loses its power and benefit as a developmental tool,” Lassiter says.

He says appraising performance is not the same as measuring proficiencies and that 360 degree feedback should only be used as a developmental tool which measures proficiencies.

“It is designed to encourage employees to grow and develop by providing feedback on their proficiency in the skills, competencies, behaviours, and practices related to the conduct of their jobs.”

He says performance appraisals are quite different – they are good for “measuring outcomes and results, what people are actually hired for and paid to produce”.

He also notes “Performance appraisal and employee development are separate and distinct processes with different purposes and different measurement tools.”

Lassiter says multi-source feedback is great for developmental purposes, but not for appraisals.

“…Typical multi-source raters … can have enormous problems separating honest observation from personal differences and biases. For appraisal purposes, co-workers are poorly qualified to give evaluative feedback that affects pay and promotion.”

He says people can quickly realise how to manipulate a system where multi-source feedback is used to decide pay.

“The 'ratee' can be helped or hurt. Putting two and two together, employees realise that ‘if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours’ … The ‘new’ system becomes tainted. Trust and honesty begin to break down in favour of getting a good review.”

Writing on Manager Wise, Robert H Kent is sceptical about using confidential surveys to judge its employees.

“How can your organisation pretend to be open, honest and forthright when it uses secrecy and anonymity to measure the value of employees? Is this the way you want your business to run?”

Kent argues that any feedback process which requires secrecy risks damaging healthy working relationships.

“I have met many employees who resent being asked to judge their peers anonymously, wondering all the while who is writing things about them, and [whether its] any of their business. Supervisors are also frustrated [about] not knowing the actual source of employee concerns so that they can attend to the problem effectively.”

Kent suggests that a better approach to 360 degree appraisal systems is to make seeking performance feedback from “significant others" a part of all employee jobs “and therefore a performance requirement”.

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