Advantages & Disadvantages of Top-Down Performance Reviews
Top-down performance appraisals consist of a supervisor or manager providing performance feedback to an employee. This differs from other methods of evaluating staffers, such as the 360-performance appraisal, which includes feedback from co-workers and customers, and input from the employee.
Both methods of assessing employees have their pros and cons, which can help and damage a business. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of top-down performance reviews will help you decide if this is the best option for you.
They Give Employers More Control
With a top-down performance review, the employer has more control of what will happen in the meeting. In some cases, a boss knows exactly what she wants to tell a subordinate, and a top-down meeting lets her give her input more quickly and possibly with less resistance from the employee.
When a company uses a performance method that includes input from co-workers, suppliers and customers, the employer will most likely have to share all of the positive feedback those stakeholders have given, even if some of it doesn’t play into the narrative the boss wants to give the employee. This is because the employee might eventually talk to the co-worker or customer who will tell her about the positive comments he made. The employee will then wonder why her boss didn’t bring this up during her performance review.
They Reduce Employee Input
With a top-down performance review, employees don’t get to give as much feedback, which management can learn from. During the preparation for a 360-degree review, the employee can prepare, gather performance data, talk to co-workers, vendors and customers and make a more thorough presentation to an employer. This not only helps the employer, but can improve the future performance of the employee as well, who might learn that she needs to respond to emails faster or give better instructions when she requests information from co-workers.
Companies that get into a habit of top-down management can stifle the creativity and ideas that come from employees who actually make the business’s products or create its services, points out Torch Leadership Labs.
Two-way employee reviews don’t just provide staff members a chance to defend themselves from criticism, but they also give employees an opportunity to discuss how they might be more productive. For example, in a top-down performance review, a boss might point out that an employee isn’t as productive as the company would like her to be and gives her a new output target.
If the boss was to discuss an employee’s productivity with co-workers and the employee, the manager might find that by giving the staff member a new software program or sending her to a training seminar, the staff member would be able to significantly increase her productivity and efficiency.
In a case like this, the boss and subordinate might not come up with either idea on their own. However, after talking to co-workers, vendors and customers, the two make the discovery together.
They Provide Less Information
Due to the one-sided nature of top-down appraisals, employers have less information to use in evaluating employees. When you include co-workers, suppliers, customers and the employee in performance reviews, you might find that an employee has positive work habits or productivity methods that customers want to see more of in other employees they interact with, and that other company employees can use to be more efficient.
They Save Time for Employers
When an employer has to interview co-workers and customers, it takes more time for the manager to prepare for the meeting. Depending on how many employee reviews the manager has to conduct, it could take weeks to wait for phone calls or emails to be returned.
The other wildcard in the equation is how long the employee will take to respond, which could include asking for time to go back to her computer to look up data and information she can use to defend or promote herself.
They Decrease Feeling of Teamwork
If an employee doesn’t feel as if he’s part of his review process, it can decrease the sense of family or team many companies like to create. Top-down feedback can seem like a lecture or criticism, rather than a fact-finding discussion or helpful critique. A top-down review can also make it seem that the company isn’t interested in or doesn’t have time for employee feedback, points out Forbes magazine.
They Can Perpetuate False Impression
When bosses completely control an employee review, a supervisor might use the appraisal to validate her pre-conceived notions about an employee, which could be an overall negative view of the staff member. If that boss were to interview co-workers and clients, she might find that the employee under review is perceived to be hard-working, helpful, positive and an asset to other employees and customers.
Using only top-down feedback instead of going through a 360-degree process, a boss who has a pet employee might have no idea that this staffer is causing trouble, consistently making errors and irritating customers. This halo effect can result in less-qualified employees getting higher performance evaluation scores and getting promoted over more-qualified workers, points out employee-management software maker Synergita.
They Can Decrease Employee Morale
When certain employees get positive reviews and others get more negative feedback from a boss who delivers a one-way assessment, this can lead to perceptions of certain co-workers as pets, which can lead to reduced employee morale and disengagement.
Low morale can increase employer turnover, less productivity, increased absenteeism and even higher healthcare costs, according to HR software maker Kazoo. One way to increase the objectivity of employee performance reviews without bringing in employees, customers and suppliers is to have managers review their assessments beforehand with other managers who work with these employees. This will provide more and helpful feedback a manager can use to determine if she is being objective and fair to each staff member.
Review Software Can Create Laziness
When managers use an HR-provided employee scoring system, it makes it easy for bosses to simply check off boxes, hand a review to an employee, make a few generic comments and ask the employee if she has any questions. This is especially problematic when a manager doesn’t have good interpersonal skills or is uncomfortable with and wants to avoid confrontation.
If your company uses employee evaluation or assessment software, make sure managers are trained to provide effective verbal feedback along with the forms. For example, the manager could go down the page of results, explaining why he rated the employee as he did and providing real-life workplace examples.
Objective scoring sheets should also be accompanied by suggestions for improvements. The more detailed feedback you can give a subordinate, including real workplace examples, the more information an employee can use to improve her performance.
Steve Milano is a journalist and business executive/consultant. He has helped dozens of for-profit companies and nonprofits with their marketing and operations. Steve has written more than 8,000 articles during his career, focusing on small business, careers, personal finance and health and fitness. Steve also turned his tennis hobby into a career, coaching, writing, running nonprofits and conducting workshops around the globe.