Don Moss, APESMA Senior Industrial Officer questions whether 360 degree performance reviews provides employees natural justice.
The 360 degree performance review is a management tool introduced by some human resource practitioners into their organisations in Australia over the past decade or so.
It involves an employee’s performance and conduct being assessed over a previous period (normally 12 months) by other employees or contacts. Apart from the employee’s immediate supervisor, other people invited to complete the assessment form might include the employee’s immediate colleaguess, employees from other departments who work with or liaise with the employee being assessed, often also the employee’s subordinates and even external contacts such as frequently used contractors.
The assessors are assured of anonymity and therefore their conclusions, criticisms and comments need to avoid particulars.
The individual assessment forms are not given to the employee, generally an HR officer summarises all the assessments into one form which is given to the employee to comment on and “defend” him/her-self. If statements or comments are positive or largely favourable to the employee, there isn’t any or much dissent from the employee.
However the lack of particularity in relation to negative or unfavourable statements or comments means that the employee may well not know what they relate to or be able to understand the context in which they were given.
Invariably broad sweeping statements are made about the employee’s performance or conduct which usually finds their way into the HR officer’s summary. The employee is invited to “defend” him/her-self when there is no knowledge as to how many of the assessors shared a particular view and there is no knowledge of what gave rise to the criticism or the context in which the issue arose.
How does an employee respond to broad sweeping criticisms such as –
- The employee is not a team player
- The employee doesn’t communicate well with colleagues
- The employee doesn’t listen to other employees
- The employee is not a good leader
- The employee is not professional in their approach
An opportunity to “defend” oneself in circumstances such as this is not natural justice.
What does the employee say to his/her manager when presented with such broad sweeping statements? “No, I disagree, I am a team player” (and “I do communicate well with colleagues” and “I do listen to other employees” etc)? Even if the employee is then able to give concrete examples, the 360 degree assessment usually will stand rather than be discarded. Sometimes the manager will take denials by the employee as a refusal to face up to what others think – “the employee is in self denial!”
On the contrary this process is a breach of natural justice because the employee can’t properly respond without the specifics or particulars that gave rise to each criticism and the context in which they were made. If the employee requests an example of the issue, the employer is usually loath to do so in case the employee is thereby able to identify the person who made the criticism. If an example is provided, to avoid identification of the critical assessor, it is invariably so generalised as to be useless in assisting the employee to understand how their performance or conduct relates to the criticism.
My conclusion is that a 360 degree performance criticism is unfair to the employee being assessed and invariably denies the employee proper natural justice.
One caveat to my conclusion – a 360 degree review for developing an employee may be useful when the manager and the subordinate employee are discussing training and professional development to assist the employee in their position and achieving future career aspirations. For this to be a constructive and positive process, the employee needs to be in genuine agreement to this process and all 360 degree assessment forms need to be destroyed except for the agreed training/development plan arising from the meeting.
Don Moss, Senior Industrial Advisor
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