Co-worker evaluations

by Evil HR Lady on October 13, 2009

I work for a large company. Every year we are asked to fill out evaluation forms, supposedly anonymously, about our coworkers. Our Manager picks many of the people who fill out the forms about us; although most of the Managers let the staff pick their own people to fill in their forms. We are cautioned not to pick friends, but to pick people who will be honestly critical. The end of the form has areas for narrative writing about areas of strength and weaknesses. Since we basically know which people are filling out the forms on us, we usually can figure out exactly who wrote what about us.

I find this to cause a great amount of stress, divisiveness and unhappiness amongst the coworkers. Personally, I never write negative things on these forms for my coworkers even if I truly have do have criticism for them or can barely stand to be in the same room with them. This is because reviews can affect their raises etc. and because I want to keep the peace. I think that even the most constructive criticism, in this format, can be seen as betrayal.

Besides, is it my job to deliver criticism? Shouldn’t my Manager be in touch enough with the team to know the problems or weaknesses and strengths of the team members and deal with it? Honestly, I feel like little good ever comes of these things. I am particularly curious about what will show up on mine this year as there are some “certifiable” people who have been asked to do mine as well as a few people who are extremely critical but I’ve had almost no contact with the entire year due to the nature of our work.

Can you explain why companies do this?


You know, after I decided to tackle this question, I went upstairs and found my husband filling out just such a form for a co-worker. It’s not uncommon. 360 degree feedback can be an excellent thing. Frequently bosses don’t know everything and co-workers and clients can offer real insight.

However, I have yet to find the person who loves to receive criticism and having co-workers delivering it directly causes the stress and anxiety you talk about.

But wait, my astute readers note, it’s all anonymous because they don’t put the names of the actual person on the notes! Yeah, just like your third grade teacher couldn’t identify which kid wrote the dirty word on the chalkboard, just by looking at handwriting. You don’t have to be psychic to figure out which of the 4 people selected made the comment.

Your company means well (honest!). They are trying to get you accurate feedback so that you can improve. They recognize that managers don’t know everything (Positive and negative) that their employees do. This is all good.

However, I think that as a general employee review process, that directly impacts raises, bonuses, etc., that the feedback should be collected and given to the manager. The manager then writes the review and uses that information to help him do so, not as a substitute for doing it himself.

You’ve noted that you’re not being honest in your reviews because of the political fall out. Others aren’t either. Some, like you, are nice. Others see it as an opportunity to undermine their competitors. (And yes, many people treat co-workers as competitors.) By filling out the information and giving it to the manager, the manager has more information (good), more honest information (because it’s not going directly to the person, although the underminers are still likely to be jerks, but the boss should know and can verify if things seem off), and can write a better review.

As for you, keep being nice, but feel free to mention real problems if you can also do so with a suggested solution. If you don’t feel comfortable saying something on the form, tell the person’s boss directly about the problem. It’s his job to deal with it.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo Ayoubi October 13, 2009 at 11:48 am

Hi there

Loved your question – you made so many really important points, here are my thoughts…

'Since we basically know which people are filling out the forms on us, we usually can figure out exactly who wrote what about us'.

Examples and comments might be identifiable but the scores are definitely anonymous. When the scores get put together they can give the person an idea of the trends, the main perceptions of his/her colleagues, which in themselves can be really useful.

Who has given the feedback is not actually the point.. the point is what is the consistent message you are getting from everyone?

'Personally, I never write negative things on these forms for my coworkers even if I truly have do have criticism for them or can barely stand to be in the same room with them'.

It's not about whether you like them or not – the 360 should be asking about specific things that they do, or don't do, well. Any toxic behaviours will emerge from the full 360 questionnaire.

'I want to keep the peace. I think that even the most constructive criticism, in this format, can be seen as betrayal'.

Just score them, don't add any of your own comments – if they are really toxic then other people are likely to do the same! If they are good, then it's not a problem.

'Besides, is it my job to deliver criticism?'

Firstly, yes, feedback can be really helpful – have you never had any useful feedback from your colleagues..? Ever..?!

And secondly, feedback can be good too, not just critical…

'Shouldn’t my Manager be in touch enough with the team to know the problems or weaknesses and strengths of the team members and deal with it?'

Yes, of course, but as Evil HR Lady says, the feedback from other people can help the manager get a balanced view. And it can balance out an evaluation from a manager who has a bad relationship with the individual…which is really important too.

'Honestly, I feel like little good ever comes of these things. I am particularly curious about what will show up on mine this year as there are some "certifiable" people who have been asked to do mine as well as a few people who are extremely critical but I've had almost no contact with the entire year due to the nature of our work'.

In that case, you should be asking for feedback from the people you have worked with, not the ones you haven't….

'Can you explain why companies do this?'

HR Lady's is a great response, but maybe your company doesn't do a very good job of explaining or supporting the 360 Feedback – this happens sometimes when 360 has been going for a while. It becomes a regular chore and everyone forgets why it happens and how to make it happen well.

Good luck with your next 360, by the way!
Jo

http://tracksurveys.co.uk/

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Matt October 13, 2009 at 12:55 pm

It is a mistake to have a promotion or raise determining 360 process where employees are evaluated by coworkers and then are allowed to directly read the results. This leads to far more workplace problems than this can ever solve.

Now, if you want a team-building or self-evaluation where employees evaluate each other and it has no other consequence other than the employee reading it, this can be a valuable experience. Paired with something akin to a DISC evaluation, this can be a powerful tool for helping people from different cultures or communication styles work on their differences and learn to communicate more effectively. However, when it comes to the raises and promotions, the process can only be effective if the evaluators feel free to be honest and open with the good and the bad. Subtle retaliation and an abrasive work environment is the most likely result from a shared 360.

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Phil Wylie October 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I agree with Matt, it shouldn't be linked to compensation. But leaving the comments to the manager can be a dangerous thing as well- there are some evil managers out there who would discount the good things that peers said about the employee just to keep their own employee down.

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El Comodoro October 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I hate hate hate the 360 review. That said, for very large companies, I can't think of a appreciably better alternative this early in the morning. Like any bureaucratic process, there are a few ways to get things right, yet even more ways to exploit the process in negative (sometimes downright sinister) ways.

The questioner is right, you'd have to be a rube not to know who gave what feedback, especially some that's backed up by specific (and thereby identifiable) examples. EHRL's idea about a manager collating the info is interesting, but the systems I'm familiar with didn't allow for that. Actual peer-written sentences, complete with bad grammar and misspellings, were cited in a "summary" report as bullet-point evidence of one's overall rating.

But it's the classic Prisoner's Dilemma: You can't be sure what the other guy/gal will say, so it's against one's own interest to hand out softball reviews. The only equilibrium is to try to be fair (or worse).

In my experience, the few people that gave out cotton candy reviews always received 'constructive' (and at least some negative) feedback. Naturally the Honchos saw this, and guess who fell to the bottom of the ranking? The Nice Guys/Gals, who racked up more negatives than their review-ees.

Thanks for reminding me why I left my large corporation!

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Anonymous October 13, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Sounds discriminatory too me.

I quote…
"Our Manager picks many of the people who fill out the forms about us; although most of the Managers let the staff pick their own people to fill in their forms. We are cautioned not to pick friends, but to pick people who will be honestly critical."

If this is true, the system is not equal for all.

A simple fix based on the survey model, that would make the system less discriminatory.

Example:

Rating (Circle one)
Bad………………..Good
John Doe: 1 2 3 4 5
Jane Doe: 1 2 3 4 5

And so on…….

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Anonymous October 13, 2009 at 7:03 pm

@ Anonymous

What is the point of rating something with 1 to 5 system like you described? How is that objective? You don't get back any useful feedback whatsoever. Surveys that ask for ratings like that poorly designed and should be banished.

If you really want to "score" people why don't you just have them rank their coworkers from best to worst for each category and have them give justification for the best and worst? At least then you would figure out

* The top two performers to recognize and reward in each category
* The bottom two performers in each category so that you can figure out if there are any performacne deficiencies you need to address that no one wants to talk about or if everyone performs at a satisfactory level because you are familiar with their performance
* You can have the top mentor the bottom or have input on how to better develop those skills within the department so other employees can see the "best practices" and have a tangible example in each category.

I think this process doesn't let people take the easy way out by just circling all 5's

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Anonymous October 13, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Maybe I should clarify….

There is no point to the 1..5 system, it is an example of what would be better than the discriminatory system the story describes.

As for feedback which is better, no-feedback or tainted feedback….if I had to make a choice I would select no-feedback.

Anyway the point here is that the Management of the "Large Company" needs to do away with this form of feedback. Why? According to the story at least one employee is obviously not comfortable with it and the Management is not getting a valid response from at least this employee (and I bet there are many more that feel the same) as evidenced by the following quote from the story.

"Personally, I never write negative things on these forms for my coworkers even if I truly have do have criticism for them or can barely stand to be in the same room with them. This is because reviews can affect their raises etc. and because I want to keep the peace."

Where's the value in that type of feedback?????

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Vandy Massey October 13, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I agree, the issue of the manager selecting the reviewers without input from the feedback recipient isn't a great process if you want people to feel completely comfortable with the process. Perhaps this should be a joint decision with input from both the recipient and the manager.

However, even more of an issue for me is the feeling that she needs to say 'nice things'. That's not at all useful.

If you'll excuse the inclusion of a link here – this might provide some helpful insight into the provision of good quality feedback (honest and specific): http://cli.gs/j73NGN

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Kevin October 17, 2009 at 3:16 am

I've worked in company's before where we received 360 feedback every year as part of the evaluation process. I actually liked this process and the criticism that it gave me because it helped me to identify development opportunities I may not have known were there. It also gave me an opportunity to gauge the perception that others had of me. If I didn't feel that a particular perception was valid, I had to ask myself why that perception was there and what I could do to change it. Anyway, just my thoughts on why I think it is a good thing IF you are open minded enough to accept the feedback.

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Anonymous October 22, 2009 at 7:55 am

Not a Bad Idea for Co-Workers!
Legal Advice

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Pragmatic Mom November 9, 2009 at 8:49 pm

check out some alternatives like those offered by Rypple or Coworkers.com — there are descriptions of options at http://www.virtualsuggestionbox.com

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