Staff get the chance to tell bosses what they think of them.
Performance appraisals have taken a new turn. No longer are they simply top-down procedures allowing bosses to deliver judgments on the work of individual employees. These days increasing numbers of employees are getting the chance to riposte with their own views about their bosses. Upward appraisal permits managers at every level to learn about themselves from the people who work for them. Typically staff are asked to rate their managers against a list of behaviour characteristics or competencies. The results are fed back to the managers, who are encouraged to seek further information and ways of improving their own performance if necessary.
Upward appraisal, says The Industrial Society's Jenny Davenport, 'enables managers to know whether or not they are doing a good job ... Organisations are attempting to become customer-focused and, as junior staff are often the ones with the most customer contact, the role of managers is increasingly to support front-line staff. Upward appraisal checks whether they are succeeding.' Besides, adds Davenport, 'managers usually genuinely want to provide motivation and inspirational leadership to their staff.' They need feedback in order to know whether, or how well, they are providing it.
The troubled DIY chain Do It All has introduced upward appraisal as part of a raft of measures aimed at transforming its fortunes. David Parton, head of business planning, believes that the new system has already brought significant benefits. Employee reports since the beginning of this year apparently indicate a 36% improvement in management behaviour.
However not all managers jump at the chance of a full and frank exchange about their own performance with their subordinates. 'Managers need to be ready for it,' Davenport emphasises. 'Otherwise they can feel they are being got at, or that this is yet another torture invented for them by the HR department. It is often useful to start with volunteers, and at the most senior levels first.' Skipton Building Society is currently at an early stage in the introduction of a new appraisal system. 'To begin with we have chosen a few enlightened departments as guinea pigs,' says training manager Cherry House. 'Some managers don't like to hear criticism so it has to be handled carefully.' Skipton is adopting a '360 degree' approach, generating feedback from peers and superiors as well as from subordinates. Individual performance is measured against a schedule of competencies. 'From this we generate a report which lists a manager's strengths and highlights any developmental needs. Those supplying the feedback cannot be identified ... This also makes it easier for the person receiving the feedback - it becomes a matter for dialogue rather than a potential cause of conflict.' Valerie Thomas, human resources director at Johnson & Johnson, introduced 360 degree feedback in the UK marketing operation three years ago. She now regards this as a powerful technique which, in addition to bringing home to individuals how they are perceived to be performing, has introduced a new objectivity to career and succession planning. 'We can now ensure that we are identifying people with the right skills for future senior management positions,' she says. 'Prior to 360 degree appraisal, views on individuals tended to be inconsistent - and largely subjective.' Nevertheless, Davenport warns, UK companies would be wise to consider carefully before jumping on the bandwagon. 'Any reluctance among UK companies is usually found in organisations which fear that their culture is not yet ready for it. Many of them are right.'.