Business Today

Circle of Fallacy

Shamni Pande        Print Edition: Feb 19, 2012

Since this is the time of the year when appraisal and other assessment forms are being dropped on employees' desks, I decided to do a dipstick survey to figure out if the "360-degree evaluation" loved by human resource (HR) managers really achieves what it is supposed to.

Shamni Pande
Shamni Pande
What is 360-degree evaluation? It means, apart from seeking an employee's self-assessment before her appraisal, feedback is also garnered from peers, subordinates and seniors. In jobs that involve dealing with customers, clients or suppliers, the latter's views about the employee's performance are solicited too. The idea is to get a complete picture of each employee's strengths and weaknesses , and thereby help her develop the skills needed to become a better manager or leader. I constantly run into HR heads who fervently extol this technique.

But, as we all know, between a theory and its practice falls a shadow. Recently, I met a young, fastrising, executive. He bragged about how he had beaten the 360-degree review. "You look pleased with yourself," I began. He conceded he was, adding that he had got positive scores for most of the skill sets required for his job. "It does ensure that I am considered for future leadership postings," he said. "It will also help me get a decent appraisal that will translate into salary hikes."

How did he do it? By first figuring out which team members and bosses were unhappy with him for one reason or another. He then alternated between taking some of them out for impromptu lunches, or coffee/drinking sessions, and cosying up to the others by doing them small favours, or giving them useful tips.
Sounds familiar?

Many Indian managers are already deep into this kind of jugaad. Little wonder then that many companies, despite carrying out appraisals, have poor leaders and managers on the one hand, and dissatisfied employees on the other.

The problem begins with the complicated nature of the assessment process. "Many HR heads and managers find this an ordeal. Filling up lengthy forms often does not bring about what was intended," says Marc Effron, an HR expert and co-author of One Page Talent Management.

The failure is compounded by poor communication. HR heads assume people know what is expected, and bank upon the company leaders to communicate this to others - leading to erroneous notions. Of course, what matters most is how a company uses the 360-degree feedback data it receives. "If it is being used for assessment, obviously people will try to doctor the data," says Chaitali Mukherjee, Countr y Manager, Right Management, the global leader in talent and career management workforce solutions. "Sharing the context of how the data will be used is important to get the right feedback."

So, are you one of those honest plodders who have not been smart enough to manage your work environment to your advantage? Smooth operators are often able to fix this and make short-term gains. But, as Sanju Saha, Vice President, HR, Peugeot India, says: "Gone are the days when just achieving targets was enough to be considered a good leader. Today, leaders can hire all sorts of specialists to do the job.

Their achievement lies in motivating people and building team strength." There are also some not-so-visible ways in which competent people get their due. "If you are good, people will talk about you. Suggestions will be made by the HR head about using your underleveraged strengths," adds Saha.

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