9 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008
In most organizations, the employee appraisal process causes more tension than any other aspect of personnel management. Despite the good intentions behind it, a 360° Feedback system does little to quell the fear that performance evaluation tends to instill. But is it possible to design a 360° Feedback system that is both comfortable and constructive for employees? This technical note discusses the challenges of and opportunities for creating a system that improves performance effectiveness and enhances career success.
All humans utilize thousands of bits of feedback data every day. Most of us watch the way that others respond to us, what happens when we try things, and how forces in the world around us cause reactions and results. Business organizations also have a natural desire to assess performance and to give feedback. Historically, most businesses implemented top-down performance appraisal systems. The underlying assumptions were that the boss knew best how to assess a subordinate's performance, and that if employees wanted to succeed, they needed to know what the boss wanted them to do to improve. Those annual or periodic reviews were, in theory, connected to salary increases and promotions; but in practice, often they were not. Further, many managers dreaded giving annual performance reviews because they felt inadequate trying to assess a complex set of skills and abilities amidst a complex set of demands and challenges. In the late 20th century, top-down performance reviews increasingly were seen as incomplete, subjective, arbitrary, and even, in some cases, as a basis for lawsuits.
In the late 1980s some companies and consultants began to believe that the best feedback would be more complete feedback—including the view not just of the boss, but also of colleagues and peers, and even subordinates; in other words, getting feedback from all points of the compass, top, down, and across. Some companies even expanded that 360° perspective to include customers and suppliers, a “spherical” approach, although that proved more difficult to manage.
At the core of all performance feedback systems was the belief that people needed accurate data in order to improve their performance. If employees did not know how they were doing, they would be unable to make good plans to improve. Yet psychologists have noted that virtually all of us want to think well of ourselves: one author even called that the fundamental human motivation. And in that desire, people sometimes deceive themselves. Sociologists reported, for example, that 80% of Americans believed they were “above average” on any given dimension. Everyone, apparently, wanted to be above average—a statistical impossibility. Some degree of “self-deception” might be useful if it helped individuals to try harder (though other kinds of “blind spots” were dysfunctional) to individual employees and the organizations in which they worked. So, various kinds of feedback or appraisal systems have been designed over the years to help keep individuals in touch with the person that others saw.
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Keywords: Performance effectiveness, performance evaluation, performance management, performance measurement, coaching, career management, feedback, human resources, 360°, personal change, personnel management, executive compensation.
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