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What is “Upward Appraisal”?

Upward appraisal is a performance appraisal of a boss written by the subordinates. In organizations that use upward appraisal, after the manager has finished preparing and discussing their performance appraisals with each subordinate, the subordinates individually and anonymously complete a questionnaire about how well the manager manages them. The results are distilled into an anonymous report and given to the manager so that he can learn about his managerial strengths and shortcomings.

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Obviously, one of the best ways to learn how good a job an individual is doing at managing people is to ask the people that he is managing. That’s the rationale behind upward appraisal.

In most organizations that use this technique (there aren’t too many), as soon as the manager has completed his responsibilities for creating and reviewing the performance appraisals of his staff, each staff member completes a written questionnaire that contains a dozen or so questions about the boss’s managerial skills and practices. For example, here are some questions about a manager’s practices that might appear on an upward appraisal questionnaire. The respondent would answer each one using a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree:

My manager:

  • Works with me to identify clear and attainable goals.
  • Initiates coaching discussions.
  • provides honest and constructive feedback about my performance.
  • Provides challenging opportunities that maximize the use of my skills.
  • Helps me find ways to maintain a healthy balance between work and life.

In addition to questions like these, individuals may also be asked to respond to open-ended questions about the boss’s managerial practices and the competencies that the manager either excels in or performs poorly. In another organization, each respondent is asked to identify:

  • Two things the manager should do more of
  • Two things the manager should keep on doing
  • Two things the manager should stop doing.

Each individual’s report is sent to the human resources department, which combines the individual responses into a summary report. The information is powerful. The results of upward appraisals not only influence the development decisions a manager makes about enhancing her managerial skills; in some organizations they also directly impact on the manager’s compensation.