Who should be evaluating employees?


Who should evaluate an employee’s performance? The obvious answer would seem to be his or her immediate boss. By tradition, a manager’s authority typically has included appraising subordinates’ performance. The logic behind this tradition seems to be that since managers are held responsible for their employees’ performance it only makes sense that these managers do the evaluating of that performance. But that logic may be flawed. Others may actually be able to do the job better.

Immediate Superior

While an employee’s immediate boss was once the most popular source of evaluations, this is no longer true, largely because it has several major limitations. For instance, many bosses feel unqualified to evaluate the unique contributions of each of their employees. Others resent being asked to “play God� with their employees’ careers. In addition, with many of today’s organizations using self–managed teams, telecommuting and other organizing devices that distance bosses from their employees, an employee’s immediate superior may not be the most reliable judge of that employee’s performance.


Peer evaluations are one of the most reliable sources of appraisal data. Why? First, peers are close to the action. Daily interactions provide them with a comprehensive view of an employee’s job performance. Second, using peers as raters results in a number of independent judgment. A boss can offer only a single evaluation, but peers can provide multiple appraisals. And the average of several ratings is often more reliable than a single evaluation. On the downside, peer evaluations can suffer from coworkers’ to evaluate one another and from biases based on friendship or animosity.


Having employees evaluate their own performance is consistent with values such as self-management and empowerment. Self-evaluations get high marks from employees themselves; they tend to lessen employees’ defensiveness about the appraisal process; and they make excellent vehicles for stimulating job performance discussions between employees and their superiors. This helps explain their increased popularity. For instance, a recent survey found that about half of executives and 53% of employees now have input into their performance evaluations.

As you might surmise, self-evaluation suffers from over inflated assessment and self-serving bias. Moreover, self-evaluations are often low in agreement with superiors’ ratings. Because of these serious drawbacks, self-evaluations are probably better suited to developmental uses than for evaluative purposes or combined with other sources to reduce to reduce rating errors.

Immediate Subordinates

A fourth judgment source is an employee’s immediate subordinates. Its proponents argue that eliciting these opinions is consistent with recent trends toward enhancing honesty, openness and empowerment in the work place.

Immediate subordinates’ evaluations can provide accurate and detailed information about a manager’s behavior because the evaluators typically have frequent contact with the person being evaluated. The obvious problem with this form of rating is fear of reprisal from bosses who are given unfavorable evaluations. Therefore, respondent anonymity is crucial if these evaluations are to be accurate.

360-Degree Evaluations

The latest approach to performance evaluation is the use of 360-degree evaluations. It provides for performance feedback from the full circle of daily contacts that an employee might have, ranging from mailroom personnel to customers to- bosses to peers. The number of appraisals can be as few as 3 or 4 evaluations or as many as 25, with most organizations collecting 5 to 10 per employee.

A recent survey shows that about 21% of American organizations are using full 360-degree programs. Companies currently using this app=roach include Alcoa, Du Pont, Levi Strauss, Honeywell etc.

In India Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Satyam, Infosys are using such programs to identify and develop potential executives for top level positions.

The appeal of 360-degree evaluations fit well into organizations that have introduced teams, employee involvement, and quality-management programs. By relying on feedback from coworkers, customers, and subordinates, these organizations are hoping to give everyone more of a sense of participation in the review process and gain more accurate readings on employee performance. On the latter point, 360-degree evaluations are consistent with evidence that employee performance varies across context and that people behave differently with different constituencies The use of multiple sources, therefore, is more likely to capture this variety of behavior accurately.

The evidence on the effectiveness of 360-degree evaluation is mixed. It provides employees with a wider perspective of their performance. But it also has the potential for being misused. For instance, to minimize costs, many organizations don’t spend the time to train evaluators in how to give constructive criticism. Other problems include allowing employees to choose the peers and sub ordinates they want to evaluate them, which can artificially inflate feedback; and the difficulty of reconciling disagreements and contradictions between rater groups.

Comments are closed.