Of the various popular worldwide human resource practices, 360-degree appraisal is one of the most important best practices followed by companies across the globe to build, retain, and develop talent.
At times when the job environment is extremely unpredictable and employee motivation is on a downward spiral everywhere, companies need to streamline their performance feedback mechanisms to avoid heavy employee churn.
For most of the companies, 360-degree comes to their rescue at this stage and builds upon credibility owing to its transparency and employee-friendly process.
According to HCL spokesperson, the 360-degree feedback process breaks the traditional mould and inverses the organisational pyramid ensuring reverse- accountability where management is now accountable to the employees.
In HCL, as a process, the 360-degree feedback has been designed to be holistic in its reach.
The managers receiving feedback gain by way of their development through the 360-Degree Reports and a highly structured Individual Development Plan (IDP) and various trainings, certifications, e-modules, etc. which come as part and parcel of the IDP.
The development of employees is also catered through world class self-development e-tools and templates.
Says Pradeep Vaishnav, Senior Director – HR, India & South Asia for Sanofi, “At Sanofi India, we use an array of tools to gather performance feedback. We lay an equal amount of importance on ‘processing' this feedback so as to enable the employees to effectively ‘build' on the same. Therefore, we believe in using the 360 degree feedback mechanism very ‘selectively' and ‘strategically'.”
Owing to the entry of multinational companies in India and their implementation of world-class policies, it becomes imperative for Indian companies also to consider the 360-degree feedback process.
Prabhir Jha, Senior Vice President (Human Resources), Tata Motors says, “There are many Indian companies which consider 360-degree feedback, either as part of its performance management process or leadership development strategy.”
Hassles of workplace politics
Of all the numerous advantages that come with implementing this feedback process, employees often express their contentment over the fact that there is a decline in politics because of this.
Prabhir Jha opines, “360-degree feedback by itself is not the panacea for workforce politics (which is not always and necessarily dysfunctional!). If the organisational culture has reached the level of maturity where feedback can be honest and candid, a 360-degree feedback may not even need to be anonymous.”
Saumen Chakraborty, President and Global Head of Quality, HR and IT, Dr.Reddy's Labs says, “This will not free the employees completely from the hassles of workplace politics.
There could be many reasons and forms of such politics and hence any single instrument cannot provide the whole relief. However, the existence of a 360-degree feedback process enhances the transparency and trusting climate in the organisation.”
Bottom of the pyramid
Obviously, this feedback mechanism is bound to be advantageous to teams in the middle and senior management. Does it trickle down to the bottom of the pyramid?
Does it make sense to apply 360-degree feedback to employees of all cadres? Are there any limitations? Let us know the opinion of industry practitioners on this.
Says K.Vaitheeswaran, CEO and Founder, Indiaplaza.com, “360-degree feedback is best suited to middle and senior management professionals. These are employees who through their decisions can influence large groups beyond their immediate teams. It makes sense to implement this process for such employees only. It is important to note that the employee who is being subjected to 360-degree feedback needs to have an openness and humility to receive such feedback from (say) subordinates and associates and act upon them.”
Saumen adds, “Normally, from a cost benefit perspective, most organisations deploy 360-degree feedback from middle management upwards.
There are several engagement tools including organisation climate survey, speak out, open house, whistle blowing, etc. covering the entire workforce of the organisation to capture the spirit of listening to the voice at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Misuse of authority
Alongside the numerous benefits, the 360-degree feedback process is also prone to some risks – the most important being the misuse of authority by groups of people. Unlike the traditional approach, where the reporting manager determines everything, it now gets into the hands of a group of people. If the group has common interests against a particular employee, the group might misuse this process to its advantage. Here are some ideas by industry experts that can be incorporated by any company to avoid such problems.
Prabhir Jha says, “This indeed depends on the prevailing organisational culture and also on the maturity of the process. Initially, one may run this risk but the process could have enough checks and balances to ensure the respondents are randomly selected by a more neutral agency and are fairly representative of various stakeholder groups.”
Saumen adds, “This can be ensured by the design of the instrument and its administration. Nobody should be given the freedom to choose the constituency of 360-degree feedback providers. Peers could be selected at random. Internal and external customers should be included. All direct reports and a sample out of the indirect reports to a manager could constitute together the list of feedback providers.”
Nevertheless, clarity in the performance feedback process coupled with strong policies that provide no room for authority misuse is always helpful in improving the performance of employees while ensuring they are always motivated.