Looking at Performance Appraisals from all sides

When was the last time you had a chance to appraise your Boss? Wouldn’t you like the opportunity to tell your colleague’s Boss something about that colleague’s performance?

Getting more than one perspective on appraisals.

The majority of organisations I encounter still use traditional performance appraisal techniques – especially for higher level management.  By this I mean the traditional practice of a Manager being interviewed by their supervising manager on the basis of a “fireside chat”. (For my previous article on this approach – Read More…) Even when they work hard at improving the appraisal formats  they still generally tend to persist with a one dimensional view of the Appraisee.

Typically these one on one interviews, regardless of how good the format is, don’t fully appreciate the impact the Manager under review has on their subordinates, peers and customers. The view of the appraising manager is often blurred by the “fog” of distance from those impacts. This can often be relieved to some extent by the appraising manager gathering feedback from others in the organisation and canvassing their opinions before entering into the Appraisal interview.

Some organisations do this by using formal “360 Degree” appraisals to obtain a well rounded impression of the Manager’s impact. These types of appraisals are not suitable for all situations but do add a significant information/decision support facility to senior management’s performance management armoury.

360degree

The Full circle on appraisals.

The “360 Degree” approach to performance reviews is a good tool if designed and administered for the right reasons and in proper context. Like all good performance management instruments it needs to be situation specific and not just comprise a selection of generic questions. Some insight into the issues to be tested on the “subject” of the review is important, so an individually tailored approach is more beneficial.

Some general comments about 360 Degree appraisals might be as follows.

  • Identifying up front those who wil be asked to participate as reviewers is important so that the questions can be formulated with their interests in mind.
  • The questions may not be (and probably should not be) the same for all categories of respondents.
  • It is important to determine the purpose of the appraisal (Is it to – underpin an Annual Performance Review? Seek feedback on managerial skill as well as technical skill? Integrate with some other review framework? Determining eligibility for a bonus?) Understanding the purpose will influence the design of the appraisal questions.
  • It is important to understand what the feedback in respect of each question will be used for. i.e. If the responses are likely to be used for developmental training etc then the questions need to be carefully designed so that the results give both valid and useful information for management decision purposes.
  • Obviously a 360 Degree review assumes that the Manager has a Supervisor, Peers and Subordinates to participate in the review, but it could also incorporate Customer representatives or other Stakeholders in the work of the Manager
  • The manner of administering the 360 Degree appraisal is also an important consideration. Will this be done merely by issuing the respondents with a survey questionnaire to be completed privately and returned, or will the Appraiser interview each of the respondents and gather their opinions face to face?
  • How the specific questions are phrased will be dependent upon the considerations mentioned above regarding context and specific issues that the Appraiser might want to explore based on previous history, concerns or particular issues of interest  relating to the Manager being appraised.
  • And of course the construction of the questions should be such as not to “lead” the respondents in offering a particular opinion.

How reliable are 360 Degree Appraisals?

These surveyed responses are, after all, the subjective opinions of the respondents and should be recognised as such, so that any personal prejudices ( “for” or “against”) should be accounted for. In particular arrangements should be made to validate the opinions through comparison with objective data or business information or through other corroborative means to avoid undue bias.

Care should be taken in using 360 Degree appraisals in organisational environments where managers have been required to exercise strong disciplinary action to resolve serious organisational issues or where there has been general upheaval involving organisational change. This consideration should not prevent their use in such circumstances but the Appraiser needs to be aware of the possible effects on opinions where hard decisions must be made.

Will 180 or 270 Degree appraisals do?

Additional feedback from any valid sources will, of course, help inform an Appraiser for the Interview. However omitting a critical respondent group – like direct reports – might itself establish a bias or otherwise deprive the review of a key perspective. As mentioned earlier the design of the survey and the selection of  participants is of supreme importance.

An important issue to recognise also is that everyone on one circle of feedback can hold a different position in another perhaps related circle – so that opinion offered in one direction might bear in mind the prospect of reciprocal opinion from another perspective. i.e. A manager can be at the zenith in one 360 Degree appraisal and at the centre or even the nadir in another.

It all depends on your vantage point.babylonian-moon-god-sin

After all who says a circle has to have 360 degrees? That number was chosen by Babylonian Astrologers about 5000 years ago because it fitted with the 60 unit base of their counting system.

Hmmm, there has to be another interesting Blog topic sourced in that fact somewhere….

 

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