It’s performance evaluation season for many of our clients.

And our hearts are heavy.

Ever since World War II, when the German military pioneered the use of 360° ratings to measure performance, 360s (substitute “multi-rater feedback,” among other nicknames) have risen in popularity among the Fortune 500s as an employee evaluation and/or development tool.  Such instruments usually ask members of an employee’s immediate work circle to provide performance input – not just tap the individual’s manager.

There’s a problem with that. 

In fact, there are several.  Goals, for one.  As HR researchers point out, there is a real difference between a 360 used for career pathing discussions versus pay and promotion decisions.  [Most in the business admit that the tool is best used for development conversations.] 

Other gurus emphasize the “lurking variables”:  number of raters, number of years raters have known the employee, scale of responses, how raters were selected, training for raters and participants, accountability, instrument quality, HR systems integration, among other factors.  All impact the validity of the feedback.

True, there are pros and cons of any course of action, whether it’s an assessment delivered by Human Resources or Supply Chain or Communications or Marketing.  Yet few tools have the potential, as 360s do, to be destructive and to damage morale.  To hurt people. 

We’ve witnessed high-achieving talent be completely devastated by the feedback – and soon thereafter, leave the company for a spot where s/he will be appreciated.  We’ve dealt with situations where, after evaluations were given, passive-aggressive behaviors are rampant … and, yes, voluntary or involuntary terminations follow.  Bottom line, the tools intended to improve corporate performance do the complete opposite. 

What executives and managers fail to remember is that work is all about the people who do it.  When you minimize a fellow human being, even unwittingly and (we would hope) with all good intentions, you knock yourself down a peg.

Our hearts are heavy.