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Alternative performance reviews

The best performance reviews let managers and employees communicate -- share ideas, opinions, and information. Unfortunately, most traditional reviews put managers into the position of uncomfortable judges, ostensibly telling employees how their work either fit the bill — or didn’t. Possibly because of this, most traditional reviews are no better than the manager’s off-the-cuff judgements, and some may be illegal.

Because of these problems, alternative types of reviews have come into play. Most require that evaluations be done not for raises, promotions, or bonuses, but for development and communication.

Problems with traditional systems

In traditional reviews, the manager tells the employee how they measure up, assuming that they both perceive the employee’s job the same way; many managers are not good at this and do not like doing it, and the “top down” form can be a problem when teamwork is important. Most managers also tend to rate their employees a bit higher than they would normally deserve, leading some companies to use ranking systems - but ranking has its own problems, especially in high performing teams.

New forms of review may help managers, employees, peers, and customers to gain a mutual understanding of what they mean by “good performance.”

Employees are usually rated by a single person, who may be biased or have an incomplete view of their work.

Other problems with traditional evaluation systems include rater carelessness; use of appraisals for political or personal reasons; the halo effect, where an employee’s strengths in one area are spread to other areas; and leniency and strictness errors, where all employees are rated either high or low. Newer systems avoid most of these problems.

Peer Reviews

A peer review program may be designed and tested by a small task force. Training and support are important, and pilot programs are essential to work out bugs without losing credibility among other workers.

Peer reviews often have high acceptance and involvement; they tend to be stable and task-relevant. By helping peers to understand each others’ work and by airing grievances in a non-threatening manner, peer reviews may also help people to get along better.

For the organization, this means higher performance. For the people, this means a better place to work and less frustration; it may also help people to concentrate less on politics or working around people, and to spend more time on their work (or to put in less overtime).

A peer review system with the power to give promotions, raises, or disciplinary actions might be workable in some businesses, but should usually start out for development only.


Self-reviews are based on the idea that employees are most familiar with their work. Employees rate themselves on a number of criteria and suggest improvements. They help to clarify their own goals, and expose areas of weakness to be worked on. The manager may be left out of the process, although an exchange of views between the worker and manager may help their relationship, and boost the employee’s own understanding.

Self-review changes the role of the manager from judge to helper, and increases the likelihood that action plans will be carried out, making the process more satisfying and more productive.

Self-reviews tend to have low halo error and less paperwork for managers, but people may not see their own shortfalls as others do, so self-reviews should be used alongside other methods.

Upward Assessments

Upward assessments are used in a large number of companies; they tend to be shocking to some managers at first, but can result in strong improvements. The rated managers can be the program’s biggest fans.

Most managers do not realize that what they say sometimes does not match up to what they do. Upward assessments can help managers to keep their words and actions consistent, while showing areas where managers can improve their performance. This can increase their credibility.

The process can’t be successful unless both raters and managers "open up." Managers must be helped to accept and deal with the results of the assessment. Outside consultants may have experience, needed skills, and an “objective outsider” image, so people can open up to them without fear of reprisal.

Upward assessments may only be run with managers who have over three direct reports. Someone other than the manager and ratees must assemble the completed survey forms into a report for the manager; some survey publishers do this.

Many consultants recommend using upward assessments at least every four years. This helps managers to check their progress and refreshes the findings of the past survey in their minds; however, it doesn’t make the cost unbearable.

Once the assessment is completed, participants should be guided through their data — ideally, making their own interpretations of it so they have ownership of their conclusions. The consultant can correct misunderstandings, and focus attention on action rather than blame and diversion. The goal is observable milestones and deadline dates, which the manager or supervisor can work with.

The manager or supervisor’s role can vary. Sharing of the actual numerical results may be best left to the people being “rated,” with the manager getting a summary for follow-through. The action plan itself should be shared with the manager, who needs to review progress over the coming weeks or months.

360 Degree Feedback (360 Degree Review)

360 degree feedback is the most comprehensive and costly type of appraisal. It includes self ratings, peer review, and upward assessments; feedback is sought from everyone. It gives people a chance to know how they are seen by others; to see their skills and style; and may improve communications between people.

360 degree feedback helps by bringing out every aspect of an employee’s life. Cooperation with people outside their department, helpfulness towards customers and vendors, etc. may not be rewarded by other types of appraisal. This system also helps those who have conflicts with their manager.

360 degree feedback generally has high employee involvement and credibility; may have the strongest impact on behavior and performance; and may greatly increase communication and shared goals. It provides people with a good all-around perspective.

The process is essentially the same as with upward assessment.


Most businesses would benefit from better communications and management. A good review system could help to improve communications, while aiding people to increase their own effectiveness and to clarify their own jobs and responsibilities. An innovative system could not only increase the performance of the staff, but also help them to work together, with common goals and fewer obstacles. It could help people to comment on others’ performance and perceived problems more freely.

Involve your employees in the process. If they design the new performance appraisal system, they may be more dedicated to it--and both you and your employees can reap the benefits.

What Toolpack Consulting can do

We can help you with your needs analysis and evaluations of current systems, including brief, targeted, cost-effective surveys to find strengths and weaknesses. We also have a Web-based peer-review (or upwards assessment) method which is custom-designed for each client. We can offer an unusually reasonable price for smaller groups because the setup costs are fairly low.

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