‘Rating’ the boss

‘Rating’ the boss

With appraisals round the corner, it’s the employees who \normally face the blues and avoid incurring their boss’s wrath. But at times tables turn, the appraiser can become theappraised. But how effectively is employee feedback implemented? Suja Nair analyses

Ever year, considerable amount of time and energy is invested on reviewing performance of the previous year. It is that time of the year that everyone associates with pay hikes, promotions, incentives etc. Traditionally when we think of this ‘period of appraisals’ the image that comes to mind is a team of Human Resource (HR) personnel seen more often in the office, having more meetings with the bosses’ than usual along with piles of forms to fill. The appraising period is a very difficult period not only for the HR but also for bosses’ and employees. But the most complicated phase to deal with is the ‘upward appraisal’, where subordinates appraise the boss.

Divakar Kaza, President-Human Resource, Lupin, informs, “The upward appraisal works on the fundamental principle that one gets a more comprehensive view, if all stakeholders are taken into account ie. not just the bosses but also the teams that work under them, their peers, and sometimes in more evolved systems, even the customers.”

Sanjay Shetty, Director Operations, EmmayHR says, “This pattern is usually followed so that there is a 360 degree accountability which is becoming the buzzword. The days where appraisals are only downward will be extinct in some time.” However he points out, “Upward appraisal as it is termed is unfortunately not practiced as much as it is in the west, though it is very effective since it gives valuable feedback on the superiors.”

Why the buzzword??

“In this case we should deal with words very carefully if you leave the words ‘assess and appraisal’ then the whole thing will be more smooth and normal. The focus should be on reviewing and giving a qualitative feed back and not playing ‘god’. Assessment is normally given by the boss as it is the boss who assess and sizes the subordinates. This is a question of not a subordinate sizing up a boss on the other hand it is all about him/her giving feed back on the boss on how things are in the company”

– Divakar Kaza President-Human Resource

Lupin

“Perceptions are subjective. The boss will gain more from this appraisal process by having insights into his own behavioural beliefs and help him to compare it with others’ perceptions leading to introspection and course corrections”

– V T Gopinath Executive Vice President

Actis Biologics

Many researchers have indicated that most bosses are in favour of subordinates’ feedback of their performance. Upward appr aisal of bosses is important to facilitate the improvement of a boss’s capability. Moreover, this upward appraisal has the advantage of involving the employees in the organisation as well as informing them that their thoughts are valuable. It is very well expected that subordinates could provide feedback on the boss since more than half the boss’s time is spent with them.

Sharing his views on the same V T Gopinath, Executive Vice President, Actis Biologics says that, “Fundamentally, everyone takes action based on their beliefs and perceptions. Many leaders are not able to judge their own behaviour, outputs and the effects of their leadership on team. A boss should be able to manage his expectations well through his team and it is only possible to achieve this if he has unbiased opinion from his own team members.”

Further he feels that the rationale behind the whole idea of appraisal of the boss by subordinates is to help the boss understand and help him to strategise and execute objectives in a way that does not threaten the independence of co-workers. This would help him to intelligently gauge all the relevant skills and attitude of subordinates and also help him to motivate them towards enhancing their performance.

The work climate of a company is directly dependent on the management style of the bosses and any feedback on the management style by the subordinate will make a huge difference.

Expressing his views on the importance of this system Kaza says, “I think the system of apprising one’s boss is good and at times needed as it will help the boss get a reflection of what his employees think about him and how he manages to nurturing talent, ensuring consistent performance and spending time and energy in developing his team etc. More importantly it helps in understanding whether he is fair, consistent and transparent in his actions.” He says that this is even a pro-employee program as the employee gets a dual benefit; on one hand, he gets the chance to review the boss above him and secondly, to review people below him so that the whole process gets more balanced.

Shetty informs, “Most employees and bosses are happy with this transparent system. However there are quarters where employees are suspicious and may not give honest feedback for fear of being reprimanded or even losing their jobs. Similarly in some quarters bosses are nervous and suspicious on the maturity and honesty that will be displayed by their subordinates when giving this feedback.”

The concerns

One of the main concerns for following this upward system is finding the right kind of people for doing this job. A company capable of building quality into its people is already half-way toward producing quality products and services. But the most important factor is the companies should first have a strong 90 degree appraisal system.

As Gopinath puts in, “This process, if done with a clear objective in mind, would bring out significant advantages in building up teams, infusing confidence and inculcating values in an organisation. Though informally practiced, currently there is no formal appraisal system of this nature.”

Kaza says that, “Some companies think that it is very fashionable to adopt the upward appraisals leading to failure in many instances mainly due to their misguided intentions. A pre-condition for a good upward appraisal is having a robust, well understood system that is universally perceived as a transparent 90 degree system or conventional system of appraisal.” Elaborating, he says that it is necessary for the 90 degree system to work successfully so that one can go to the next level. There needs to be a proper education of employees on this system stressing why it is being done. They should realise that this process is used for their own development.

Kaza informs, “This procedure is not widely practiced in our company yet; however we are in the rather evolved stage of aligning our people and processes to match the highest in pedigree of international standards and tools. We are modifying ourselves every year based on our past experiences since we would like to make us at par with the best in the market. We review our strategies every year on what could be done to make us faster, smarter and better than the previous year.” Suggesting metaphorically Kaza says that in comparison to the crawl, walk and run stage; upward appraisals stand for running and Lupin is at present going cautiously towards the final run stage.

Different in many ways

“There is always an HR person who acts as a mediator to ensure the protection of the employees’ identity. However this risk is there and hence a lot depends upon the maturity of the people, the stage of the organisation and the orientation given to the company on the appraisal system and its implications on people’s careers

– Sanjay Shetty Director Operations

EmmayHR

Unlike other appraising systems, the objective of the upward appraisal system to a larger extent is done only for analysing how the boss is so that it can in turn help him in getting an overview about himself and how he is perceived in the organisation by his employees.

Gopinath says, “The appraisal process should be related to only performance review system with the objective of improving the individual effectiveness and leadership capability of the boss and not linked to incentives/promotions/pay hikes or as a part of a performance review system.” However he clarifies that employee feedback is not taken as a mere formality. The inputs are used to give objective feedback to the respective bosses, further to which tactful counseling of the boss is also carried out.

Agreeing on the same, Shetty avers, “If the performance appraisal rating is linked to variable payout, then the ratings of the subordinate will influence the pay out and incentives of the superior who is being appraised. The influence of this on promotion is there but on a case to case basis because the feedback from the person’s superior still takes precedence compared to the subordinate. Almost 50 percent of the companies would use this as a performance review system and it may not be linked to incentives, promotions, pay hikes etc.”

One should remember that this appraisal system should not be seen only for the sake of pay hikes or promotions but also as a period to retrospect on the overall performance of the company and its work culture. Appraisal process should be there to make sure that all the employees are able to work towards the constructive improvement of the company and give them an opportunity to perform to the best of their capabilities.

Explaining Kaza says, “In this case we should deal with words very carefully. If you leave the words ‘assess and appraisal’ then the whole thing will be more smooth and normal. The focus should be on reviewing and giving a qualitative feedback and not playing ‘god’. Assessment is normally given by the boss as it is the boss who assess and sizes the subordinates. This is a question of not a subordinate sizing up a boss; on the other hand it is all about him/her giving feedback on the boss on how things are in the company.” However conveying a word of caution Kaza avers, “If any company is planning to implement 360 degree it should be done only with the aim of getting a feedback initially and not linked to bosses’ promotions or pay hike, as people would go berserk initially if they get the power to rate their bosses’.”

Who does it?

All said and done how are the employees selected for rating the boss? Don’t they have the danger of facing their bosses’ wrath for what they have said and done?

Answering the same Gopinath says, “The appraisal process is done in a very confidential manner to make it more meaningful. The employees concerned are detailed about the purpose and objectivity sought while assessing the boss. Care is taken to eliminate any perceived personal enmity or negativity towards the boss due to factors other than performance.” Explaining this, he said that the subordinates are also counseled before they rate their boss and the parameters are well explained in order to achieve the specific objective. The individual employee’s name is hidden from the boss or anyone else in the company. The information is kept strictly confidential and this is the responsibility of the HR.

If the power of choice is given to a particular employee that can lead to influencing of the data by the employer as well as the employee; so in order to be fair the power of rating or feedback should be given to all employees working under any particular boss. This would help in achieving a universal and unbiased result.

Kaza says, “The feedback of the employees are taken in an aggregate manner after summarising it and not considered individually, thus the boss will never come to know how much each employee working under him has rated. This prevents the boss venting their anger on a particular employee and helps the employee express (him/herself) in a more open manner. This process will work only when both parties know why it is being done, how it is being done and by whom it is being done. For anything to be a success there has to be a transparency in the system.”

In almost all instances the feedback of the employees are taken only to review the conduct and behavior of the bosses’ but in some rare cases if any misconduct or harassment is discovered from the side of the employer then steps are certainly taken to avoid such in future.

Shetty informs, “The suggestions and feedback are implemented in 50 percent of the companies. Sometimes, there can be very serious issues that get discovered. If there are conduct issues, action is taken immediately. Usually, action is taken by giving feedback and direction in terms of counseling or training to the ‘Manager’ /appraised superior so that he/she can improve the development areas.”

As fara as protecting the identity of the employee is concerned Shetty informs, “There is always an HR person who acts as a mediator to ensure the protection of the employees’ identity. However the risk is always there and hence a lot depends upon the maturity of the people, the stage of the organisation and the orientation given to the company on the appraisal system and its implications on people’s careers.”

In all one can sum up that though rating one’s boss seems to be a Herculean and risky task, if dealt with strategically and intelligibly, then it would certainly help in understanding and maintaining a good relation between the employee and the employer further reflecting a healthier working culture.

As Gopinath rightly puts in, “Perceptions are subjective. The boss will gain more from this appraisal process by having insights into his own behavioural beliefs and help him to compare it with others’ perceptions leading to introspection and course corrections.”

suja.nair@expressindia.com