Printer Friendly

Upward appraisals for managers.

The first and foremost concern is with the quality of people. A company able to build quality into its people is already half-way toward producing quality products and services. Only after the "humanware" is squarely in place should the hardware and software aspects of any business be considered."

Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success, by Massaki Imai

Feedback is an essential part of any continuous improvement process, whether that process be focused on human performance or products and services. Appraising human performance is, of course, a more sensitive task than analyzing product and service quality. More sensitive still is the issue of management evaluation and, more specifically, the question of whether managers should in any way be evaluated by the people they supervise.

Indeed, the social norm in many organizations demands, either overtly or covertly, that people avoid giving their managers direct negative feedback -- even when a manager's behaviors are sabotaging his or her subordinates' work performance. Thus, few organizations use subordinate appraisal feedback for manager evaluation. Feedback from subordinates can, however, be an accurate, realistic source of information on how well management is doing its job. This is especially critical in light of the fact that management evaluation is one of the key challenges for organizational development in the 1990s.

How others see them

An entire organization reaps benefit or harm from managers' supervisory competence or lack thereof. For example, a two-year study on work and well-being by Hogan and Morrison at the University of Tulsa reported, "In study after study, across organizations, occupations, geographical locations and time periods, at least 60 percent of the workers surveyed reported that the most stressful aspect of their job is their immediate supervisor."

The authors went on to conclude that there is a 60 to 75 percent base-rate for managerial incompetence in the U.S. Perhaps this is not surprising, considering that many people are put into managerial positions with no prior training in supervisory skills. Once in those positions, managers receive little or no feedback to help them learn about their strengths and weaknesses.

In fact, even when manager evaluations are conducted, they are often done poorly. Such was the finding of a study of 60 top managers in 11 function areas in seven different companies. Less than 20 percent of these managers felt they received effective annual performance appraisals, even though they stated that they wanted such evaluations.

Indeed, managers often feel caught in a double-bind on the issue of their own performance evaluation. On the one hand they want to know how they are doing. On the other hand they are concerned about maintaining a positive image. They fear that asking others -- and especially subordinates -- for feedback will make them appear weak or lacking in self-confidence. Faced with that dilemma, many managers prefer to allude themselves into thinking they are doing well, rather than to risk finding out they need to change some of their behaviors.

The obstacles are further compounded when a person has held a management position for a long time. The longer their tenure, the more secure managers feel and the less motivated they are to seek others' opinions of their performance. When a long-tenured manager feels immune to the evaluations of others but is undermining other people's efforts on the job, a crisis is in the making.

Thus, numerous issues get in the way of managers seeking, or even desiring to seek, informal feedback from subordinates. These hindrances can be overcome by setting up a formal feedback system for upward appraisal.

Why upward appraisal?

While many would agree that formal evaluation of managers' performance is crucial in any organization, disagreement abounds on one key question. What should be the source of that evaluation? Oftentimes managers' only source is their own perceptions of their behaviors, their achievements and the reactions of those around them.

Clearly, self-observation has its limits, especially if managers never discuss their observations and interpretations with anyone else. For example, a manager may see his or her delegating behavior quite differently from the way a subordinate views it. By relying on self observation alone, a manager's appraisal becomes little more than a blend of guesswork and wishful thinking.

Many managers also get feedback from their bosses. But bosses get largely a top-down view of what managers do. That perspective may not be the best vantage point from which to judge how well a manager is leading, supervising and communicating with his or her subordinates. Bosses can, of course, ask a manager's subordinates for their assessments. But the question remains as to how much weight bosses give to subordinates' assessments of their managers. Yet another question is how much bosses actually use those assessments to coach the manager in ways to improve his or her managerial behaviors. Gathering subordinates' opinions is nothing but an academic exercise if that information is not used to help managers make constructive changes.

Subordinate appraisal of managers is a vital, but largely untapped, source of information. Consider that most managers spend as much as half their time interacting with subordinates. Clearly, no one can better assess how effectively a manager is leading, coaching, supervising and communicating than those people who are on the receiving end of those behaviors each and every day.

That is not to say, however, that subordinates can evaluate all aspects of a manager's performance. For example, they are not in a position to assess the manager's peer relations and teamwork. A complete appraisal bring in multiple perspectives: superiors, peers and subordinates.

Still, some managers may look skeptically at the shift in power that comes with opening up to subordinates' appraisals. A side-benefit, however, comes into play here. By inviting subordinate feedback, a manager is saying that he or she values what employees think and wants to encourage their involvement. That message can go a long way toward building employees' trust and respect.

Along with the skeptics, there are other managers who see subordinate appraisal as an important key to helping them hone their managerial expertise. For example, this author surveyed 130 managers of a large Wisconsin firm before the organization began an upward appraisal feedback process. These managers included first-level supervisors, middle managers, division managers, senior vice presidents and the CEO. The survey found that:

* Eighty-nine percent indicated they liked the idea of subordinates giving them feedback.

* Ninety percent thought subordinates would give constructive information.

* Eighty-two percent believed the subordinate feedback would be objective.

* Seventy-four percent thought subordinate feedback should be used for manager evaluation.

* Seventy percent believed subordinate feedback would help managers improve their supervisory behaviors.

Such findings suggest that managers may be far more open to the idea of being evaluated by their subordinates than many organizations now realize.

Upward appraisal is already working

The crucial question, of course, is whether subordinate appraisal works. Does it actually help managers improve their managerial behaviors? Several studies support the claim that it does.

* In a University of North Carolina study, managers were randomly assigned to one of two groups, experimental and control. Those in the experimental group received anonymous feedback from a brief scaled questionnaire completed by five of their subordinates. Managers in the control group received no subordinate feedback. Members of the experimental group significantly improved in their supervisory behaviors relative to managers who did not receive feedback.

* Another study found that teachers who got feedback from students significantly improved their performance, while the performance of teachers receiving feedback from their supervisors actually decreased.

* A survey of 205 managers in a Wisconsin government agency who participated in a 360 |degrees~ multiple appraisal process showed that managers thought subordinate feedback on their leadership behaviors was more accurate than superiors' or peers' feedback.

* In a study by the author, 200 middle- and upper-level managers of a state government agency asked their subordinates, peers and superiors to complete pre- and post-leadership assessment of their managerial and leadership behaviors. These managers reported that subordinates were best positioned to observe their performance as supervisors and leaders. Therefore, they felt subordinate feedback was more accurate than feedback from peers and superiors.

Indeed, subordinate feedback is being used increasingly in management evaluation. One researcher found that 20 percent of organizations surveyed used upward appraisal in some form. In a recent survey conducted by the author 32 percent of the 209 managers surveyed from 30 mid-sized Midwest companies reported using annual subordinate appraisals.

Several major companies now use upward appraisal. IBM, for instance, has been using such a system to evaluate its managers for more than 25 years. Syntex, RCA and Libby-Owens-Ford also use subordinate appraisal. Likewise, Alabama Power, the Federal Aviation Administration and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Co. all recently began using this process. Some companies -- among them W.W. Granger, Skill Corp., Lockheed, Pacific Gas and Electric, and United Postal Data -- contract with outside management consultants to conduct employee opinion surveys that include subordinate appraisal of management.

Also, some leadership training and development organizations, such as the Center for Creative Leadership and the University of Michigan Executive Training Program, now require that participating managers use subordinate appraisal before attending management workshops. The subordinate feedback is incorporated into the training sessions, and managers are encouraged to develop self-improvement goals in their areas of weakness as perceived by subordinates.


Now more than ever, managers need to be encouraged to improve their managerial and leadership behaviors. Managerial training and development are not enough. Feedback is crucial to enhance managers' learning. In the 1990s, smart organizations will use subordinate feedback to help promote continuous improvement of managers.

Managers' willingness and ability to use upward appraisal feedback will become a critical issue in this decade. The challenge for managers is to take a creative risk by using an untapped source of information, namely subordinates. There is a saying, "People know quality when they see it." Employees, too, know quality in management when they experience it.

For further reading

Ashford, Susan, "Feedback-seeking in Individual Adaptation: A Resource Perspective," Academy of Management Journal, 1986.

Ashford, Susan, "Self-assessment in Organizations: A Literature Review and Integrative Model," Research in Organizational Behavior, 1989.

Ashford, Susan and Larry Cummings, Personal Strategies of Creating Information, Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 1983.

Bernardin, John, "Subordinate Appraisal: A Valuable Source of Information for Managers," Human Resource Development, Fall 1986.

Bernardin, John and W. Beatty, "Can Subordinate Appraisal Enhance Managerial Productivity'!" Sloan Management Review, Summer 1987.

Frieberg, P., "Surprise -- Most Bosses are Incompetent" (Frieberg's report on the study conducted by Robert Hogan and John Morrison, University of Tulsa), The American Psychology Association Monitor, January, 1991.

Hackman, J.R. and G.R. Oldham, "Motivation Through the Design of Work: Test of a Theory," Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 1976.

Hegarty, Richard, "Using Subordinate Ratings to Elicit Behavioral Changes in Supervisors," Journal of Applied Psychology, 1974.

Kiechell, W. III, "When Subordinates Evaluate the Boss," Fortune, June, 1989.

Latham, Gary and Ken Wexley, Increasing Productivity Through Performance Appraisal, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1982.

Longennecker, Clinton and Dennis Froia, "Neglected at the Top, Executives Talk about Executive Appraisal," Sloan Management Review, Winter, 1989.

Taylor, Susan, Cynthia Fisher and Daniel Ilgen, "Individual Reactions to Performance Feedback in Organizations: A Control Theory Perspective," in Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, vol. 2, Greenwich, Conn.: Jai Press, 1984.

Tuckman, B.W. and W.F. Oliver, "Effectiveness of Feedback to Teachers as a Function of Source," Journal of Educational Psychology, 1968.

Van Velsor, Ellen, and J. Leslie, A Guide to Leadership Evaluation Instruments, Greensboro, North Carolina: The Center for Creative Leadership, 1991.

Guidelines To Help Organizations Establish An Upward Appraisal Feedback Process For Continuous Improvement

Before implementing a subordinate appraisal process, the CEO or human resource director should assess attitudes and perceived need among managers and subordinates. Results will probably support implementing subordinate appraisal.

Clarify purpose -- In a program's first three years, use upward appraisal feedback for development rather than evaluation. This allows participants ample time to become accustomed to the new approach and begin behavioral improvement strategies.

Develop or purchase questionnaires -- Specific feedback is better than general feedback. Therefore, organizations should develop their own upward appraisal questionnaire rather than using general questionnaires created by management consultants. Organizations that design their own questionnaires may gain greater acceptance and commitment to the upward feedback process because employees have input in the questionnaire's design.

Provide for open-ended responses -- Responses to scaled questionnaires may not provide enough useful information. Therefore, request additional written information as well. Provide samples for writing constructive, descriptive behavioral comments as opposed to scathing, evaluative comments.

Assure anonymity -- The most accurate evaluations of a manager's behaviors will occur when anonymity is assured. Subordinates will not have to worry about retaliation for being honest, nor will they try to flatter their managers with unrealistic positive responses.

Train raters -- Training individuals to avoid common rating errors is critical in developing managerial confidence in the upward appraisal process. The most effective rater training gives subordinates an opportunity to increase awareness of their rating propensities and how to spot and correct potential rating errors.

Teach superiors to be coaches -- Coaching sessions should be motivational, especially when the manager needs to overcome performance deficiencies. Assessing perceived strengths and weaknesses and helping the recipient set self-improvement goals with specific action plans are major parts of the coaching process.

Evaluate and use responses -- Managers should examine feedback using two dimensions: To what degree was the feedback expected, and to what degree did it suggest changing behaviors? Based on these dimensions, four possible types of feedback results exist: Expected positive, unexpected positive, expected corrective and unexpected corrective. The most difficult feedback for the manager to process is unexpected corrective feedback. Once a manager accepts the feedback, he or she can set self-improvement goals with specific action plans to assure their attainment.

Establish performance norms -- Feedback to managers that includes performance standards not only satisfies a human need to compare oneself to a standard, but also serves as a motivator by providing a target to attain or maintain.

Include upper management -- CEOs who use subordinate appraisal feedback encourage other managers to use the process and can build trust and respect by participating fully themselves. It should be clarified that the upward feedback program differs from traditional performance appraisals because feedback is anonymous and intended for personal development only.

David Antonioni is an assistant professor of management at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. He is the director of the Middle Management Program Series with business outreach department of the School of Business at the Management Institute. He teaches executive development seminars at the Management Institute and serves as a management consultant with business and industry. His two primary applied research areas are upward appraisals and managerial coaching.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Antonioni, David
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Total customer satisfaction: the next step.
Next Article:Enterprise support systems: training and aiding people to plan and manage.

Related Articles
Keeping lies out of the performance appraisal.
Pay for performance.
A contrary look at employee performance appraisal.
Housing markets in hurricane prone areas may falter.
Using 360 degree feedback.
Using 360 degree feedback.
Pension Protection Act changes valuations for tax purposes.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters