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The Role of Subordinates in 360 Feedback

The Validity of Subordinate Appraisals

A major issue in the use of 360 feedback systems is the use of subordinate ratings. Traditionally, North American businesses have been hierarchically structured, with little upward communication. Each work role was clearly defined and divided. Recently, subordinates have been given the opportunity to assess their superiors and participate in some of the decision-making processes. This development has blurred the organizational boundaries and led to new styles of management. Consequently, many managerial worries have arisen due to these changes. The following are some of the common concerns listed in the literature:

  1. Subordinates will not be truthful in the performance ratings for fear of repercussions;
  2. Managers will be over-concerned with pleasing subordinates in order to achieve positive ratings;
  3. Managerial authority will be questioned;
  4. Managers' ratings will reflect their popularity among the workers, not their abilities;
  5. Subordinates are not capable of assessing manager's performance and will, therefore, skew the ratings;
  6. Subordinates' ratings will be based on the weight of their workload: The harder the work that they are assigned, the more negative ratings will be given to their supervisors;
  7. Increase in reciprocal leniency- "I'll scratch your back if you will scratch mine" mentality;
  8. Managers will quit, rather than adjusting to the new system.

Academic research has indicated that these concerns are totally unfounded, in fact subordinate appraisals have been found to be widely accepted and more accurate than supervisory appraisals. McEvoy and Beatty (1989) compared the validity of subordinate appraisals to traditional assessment centers. These researchers found that subordinate appraisals were not only more cost effective as compared with assessment centers, but were also better predictors of managerial performance.

Bernardin, Dahmus, & Redmon (1993) found that 56% of managers reported that subordinates were the best evaluators for certain aspects of supervisory performance. These researchers also found that managers were more supportive of subordinate appraisals when they received superior appraisals as well. This indicates a strong support for multiple source feedback systems. Having another rating source may have minimized the managers' concerns over the perceived detrimental effects of subordinate appraisals.

Bernardin & Beatty (1987) reviewed the effectiveness of subordinate appraisals in five large organizations: IBM, RCA, Syntex, Libby-Owens-Ford and the Highway Patrol. All five of these organizations have had great success with subordinate appraisal. IBM reports more employee involvement and job satisfaction, and RCA reported that 94% of their managers preferred the multiple source feedback approach. The researchers, thus, conducted a study to determine which areas of managerial behavior subordinates should evaluate. A large sample of managers were asked to rate on a five-point scale the extent that they themselves and their subordinates were qualified to assess ten supervisory dimensions. Overall, subordinates received moderately high ratings on eight out of ten dimensions. In fact, managers considered subordinates to be better evaluators of their leadership and information disseminator skills than they were themselves.

Support for subordinate appraisals

  1. Subordinates have a better perspective of many important aspects of managerial performance, such as leadership, and interpersonal skills.
  2. Employee commitment and involvement is enhanced through active participation in the appraisal processes.
  3. The accuracy of performance feedback is increased with multiple raters and multiple perspectives.
  4. Early identification of potential problems, such as turnover, groups conflict and low productivity is possible through subordinate ratings.

There are three important conditions necessary for the successful implementation of an upward appraisal system. First, managers must be supportive of the use of subordinates' appraisals; therefore, a participative style of management is beneficial. Second, the statements of the feedback survey must be representative of the managerial areas that subordinates are able to evaluate. Finally, subordinate appraisals work most effectively with another feedback source, such as peers, supervisors, or customers.

References

Bernardin, H. J., & Beatty, R. W. (1987). Can subordinate appraisals enhance managerial productivity? Sloan Management Review, Summer, 63-73.

Bernardin, H. J., Dahmus, S. A., & Redmon, G. (1993). Attitudes of first-line supervisors toward subordinate appraisals. Human Resource Management, 32, 315-324.

Edwards, M. R., & Ewen, A. J. (1996). 360 Degree Feedback: The Powerful New Model for Employee Assessment and Performance Improvement. New York, NY: Amacom.

McEvoy, G. M., & Beatty, R. W. (1989). Assessment centers and subordinate appraisals of managers: A seven year examination of predictive validity. Personnel Psychology, 42 (1), 37-52.

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