Flip side of 360 degree feed back- what makes the process Difficult


N.R. Aravamudhan
Senior Faculty - Human Resources
Suverna International Institute of Management Studies

In a highly competitive market, organizations are facing an unprecedented pressure to raise the bar of performance and continue to deliver to enable it leapfrog the competition. Today, a beleaguered organization will have to slug it out in the market sweepstakes to live up to the heightened expectations of its key stakeholders. Organizations are looking at ways and means to operate more effectively and efficiently. American companies, after having bloodied their hands in 70's and 80's when the US economy slid in to nadir, were always the first off the block to come up with new approaches and methods to improve performance. One such innovative assessment tool was 360-degree feedback. Debuted in US companies in 90's, 360-degree appraisal has become current flavour of the season not only in US, but also in India. Widely touted as a great development tool, 360-degree feedback is increasingly finding favour with HR managers in Indian corporate landscape. Though 360-degree approach brings slew of advantages in the wake of its implementation, it has its fair share of naysayers who pan it mercilessly as a process that leaves a trial of blood both in the organization. 360 degree, if not implemented properly can have a calamitous consequence for companies. Many experts argue that the right culture should prevail in the organization before introducing 360-degree approach; 360 degree involves collecting feed back about an individual from multiple sources. The source, among others includes, an individual's superior, peers, internal and external customers, client reports, suppliers. Self-assessment, conducted by the individual will also be included in the exercise. To put it succinctly, the underlying objective is to find the gap between one's own appraisal and the perception of other constituents in the 360 degree feed back. There is no gain saying the fact that it's an excellent process. But the nub of the issue is that it is not always successful. There is always a mad clamour among the companies to hitch itself on to any new management fad that manages to generate quite a buzz. The fact that a competitor is doing it is good enough reason for others to follow the suit. It all boils down to one vital imperative- "How you do it is more important and critical than actually implementing 360 degree feed back". If 360 degree were to be implemented in a haphazard manner, the company is setting itself up for a disastrous situation. If people are not happy about the process, then morale will be hit hardest. Willy ľNilly, Companies may open a veritable can of worms, making the situation muddier and murkier. Some staff will become soft target. Companies will have to assess its state of readiness vis-Ó-vis 360-degree system before taking a headlong plunge. In the light of these facts, the question that begs an answer is what makes 360-degree appraisal difficult? Some common deficiencies in the 360-degree approach that renders it less reliable and attractive are using the feedback for performance appraisal.

360 degree feedback has a different use:

Performance appraisal is a evaluative process used to determine the out comes or the end result. The result gets measured after determining a clear, specific goals and measuring the actual performance against them. Efforts, attitude, behavior, teamwork are the few performance metrics factored in performance evaluation. Experts feel that this cannot be a real barometer of job performance. 360-degree feedback is a developmental tool. It is a modeled to help employees develop by providing feedback on their expertise in the remit of skills, Competencies and behaviors. As the employees grow and nurture their skill sets and competencies, companies will be able to turbo-charge its performance levels. So the purpose of 360 degree and performance appraisal are different. If the organization tries to link both, then it will be sitting on powder keg.

Architecture of 360-degree tool is polar opposite to performance evaluation

360 feedback is a good process to zero in on and measure the skills, competencies and practices required to do a job. In fact 360 degree feedback works wonderfully well in measuring soft skills such as emotional quotients listening skills, interpersonal skills, coaching, and leadership.360 degree can also be adopted to identify the training needs. It can also be used to assess the team cohesiveness and customer satisfaction. On the contrary, performance appraisal is an evaluative process, good enough to set the standards of performance and measure the progress made against it. So performance appraisal and development tools are different from each other. Any attempt to dovetail 360-degree feedback into performance appraisal will have negative implications for the company as a whole. An eminently avoidable situation.

Linking 360 degree feedback to promotion and salary decision is risk- fraught

Performance appraisal is used to decide upon salary hike and promotions. 360 degree is a development tool. If 360 degree feed back is tied to pay hikes and promotion decisions, the process will have the stamp of failure written all over it. If the 360-degree is linked to financial rewards, employees can see through the larger game plan and may begin to subvert or circumvent the system to their advantages. Some employees may get excellent ratings. Few employees may find themselves swamped by poor ratings. Trust and honesty gets short shrift. Proficiencies and competencies of the employees will spiral downwards. The organization will gravitate towards mediocrity.

Lack of training could spell a trouble

Giving effective feedback is a tough proposition unless the company trains all the constituents involved in 360 degree feed back to receive and provide feedback. The process could plunge into uncertainty; intractable conflicts among the members could crop up. To provide a constructive feedback, people need training. Benefits will out strip the cost of training as the feedback delivered to participants becomes more targeted. Feedback will help employees identify a behavior that add or destroys value.

Cynicism abounds

Like a match fixing in the cricket, there can be a "fixing" in companies also, albeit of a different kind. Raters can collude with each others to muster enough numbers to get good ratings. Employees may treat the whole exercise with disdain, as they know that the system is tainted and doctored.

Politicking may rear its ugly head.

If an individual don't get a good appraisal, the whole blame game is played out. An aggrieved individual may accuse the co-worker of deliberately giving a low rating and may demand his / her scalp. Mud slinging and muckraking will become every ones favorite Pastime in the company.

Time and cost are the constraints

Time and cost associated with 360-degree feedback is a real dampener. In a bid to capture all the facets of employee's performance, the 360degree system may become unmanageable, gobbling up more time and high cost.

360 degree feedback can be counter-productive if there is no right culture in the organization.

The superiors blanch the possibility of sub-ordinates evaluating their performance. The fact that the sub-ordinates take a call on his/her performance is a frightening proposition for the bosses. Employees may not come forward to provide feedback about bosses for the fear of reprisal. If the boss were to have less than five sub-ordinates in the rating pool, it's easier for him to track down the source of negative feedback, and launch a massive witch-hunt against the target. Even though the sub-ordinate evaluates the bosses in anonymity they may still give favorable ratings to the superior, in order to avoid ruffling the feathers. This only obscures the picture further. Sub-ordinate feed back can help the bosses gain insight into their own strengths and weaknesses. The skewed feedback may only deprive the boss of understanding the employee concerns and needs. The manager can never become responsive to the aspirations of his/her sub-ordinate.

N.R. Aravamudhan
Senior Faculty - Human Resources
Suverna International Institute of Management Studies

Source: E-mail July 16, 2007


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