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Staff appraisal systems are in use in the great majority of large UK organizations and have been developed over many years[1-3]. A relative newcomer on the scene is a system whereby employees can have a formal input into their managers' performance appraisal. The common term for such a system is upward appraisal, but some US terminology is more picturesque terming it "bottom-up", "reverse review" or "upside-down" appraisal.
Upward appraisal is, at present, much more common in the USA than the UK[7,8]. Early introduction appears to have been via the practice spreading from US parent companies to their UK operations, e.g. Federal Express, Standard Chartered Bank, American Express and Rank Xerox. However, recent press reports show an increasing number of initiatives in the UK[9-17]. Schemes have been introduced in the manufacturing sector at BP Exploration, Mobil North Sea and Glaxo. The practice is also catching on in the services sector, e.g. Avis Rent-a-Car, The Body Shop, W.H. Smith, British Airways, and Central Television. Interestingly, we are now seeing developments in the public sector where pilot systems are being evaluated in Post Office Counters, the Metropolitan Police, the NHS and the Civil Service.
Significant benefits are claimed for upward appraisal. These include improved managerial effectiveness, particularly in relation to leadership and people management[18,19]. It is also claimed to facilitate employee empowerment and so encourage a more participative management style. This latter point may mean that the organization is a more attractive place to work for all staff. Thus, upward appraisal is seen as being more in tune with "new management" practices (e.g. total quality management (TQM), lean production, flatter organizations, decentralization, and flexibility) than the traditional approaches. Finally, Keegan makes a more philosophical claim and suggests that it facilitates the transition to a post-Fordist organizational form.
Traditional managerial appraisal processes differ greatly from those of upward appraisal. The most striking contrast is that the latter is almost always conducted through anonymous questionnaires. This results from an attempt to overcome subordinates' fears of the results of making honest but unfavourable ratings of their manager[22,23]. As might be expected, especially in a relatively new innovation, the way it is implemented is not consistent between different organizations and cultures. There are now over 30 different commercial "off-the-shelf" products from which to choose. These vary in price, complexity, sophistication and size, ranging from under 20 to over 500 questions in the survey instrument. Nevertheless, organizations often tailor a basic model to suit their individual needs.
Some systems appraise all managers, while others only sample a range. We can also see major differences in how many appraisers are used, in how they are chosen and in the frequency of use. The areas appraised can also vary considerably, for example, from the customer sensitivity of UK managers to the visionary skills of American managers, and to the political consciousness of Russian managers.
Upward appraisal is normally used as an addition to traditional forms of appraisal rather than as a straight replacement, often as one element of a multi-appraisal or the so called "360 [degrees] " appraisal process. It is also predicted that it will become more widely used in the future. Nevertheless, because of concerns about diluting its effects, some writers suggest that organizations are only likely to use it as an occasional and additional activity rather than as an integral and annual part of the appraisal process.
The politics of managerial appraisal
A number of studies have found that managerial appraisal is a highly political process and thus is not without its personal costs for managers[31,32]. Longenecker's[33,34] research found that managers' appraisal ratings were often manipulated. Sometimes, ratings were artificially deflated to show who was the boss, to prepare the ground for termination, to punish a difficult or rebellious employee and to "scare" better performance out of the appraisee. Ratings were also inflated, for example, to gain the promotion of a troublesome manager up and out of the department.
Upward appraisals also provides senior managers with an additional tool to evaluate and control managerial behaviour. It thus facilitates the management of managers through their subordinates, or, in "new managerialism" speak, their "internal customers". Managerial attitudes, especially at middle management levels, have often …