| 05 Aug 2017
| Onkareshwar Pandey, Editor In Chief, NOP


• Anup Mudgal

The Indian media has recently carried several articles on the Government's decision to apply 360 degree evaluation system for promoting officers to the top positions. The successful candidates argue its merits but those left behind are not convinced because of scant clarity and lack of transparency about the mechanisms at work.

The system of 360 degree evaluation has been practiced by the corporate world for quite some time for designing effective tools for human resource development for better results. I was exposed to this system for the first time when called to independently chair a panel for considering retention and elevation of the Director of the International School of Belgrade in mid 1990s. I was invited in my capacity as a parent as well as someone with experience of the working of such international schools elsewhere.

I agreed expecting the exercise to last a few hours. However, going through the entire process spread over a week was a real eye opener as to how the evaluation system could be effectively deployed for optimal development of vital human resource.

As per my recollection, the panel, in consultations with the school Board, PTA and some student representatives, prepared a vision statement of expectations from the school not only for the carrier of the pupils and their families but also for the society at large- an essential step towards the larger goal of nation building. The Director was asked to explain his plan of action for achieving these goals. These inputs were shared with the Board and randomly selected parents and students to evaluate and rate the quality and feasibility of the Director's work plan, assign marks on a predetermined scale and commentif need be. These were shared with the Director for response followed by an extensive interview by the Panel along with representatives from the Board and PTA, with a few student representatives as observers.

This extraordinary experience convinced me of the ills and inadequacy of our own evaluation system which was mostly limited to a unilateral judgement by the immediate superior followed by a review by the next higher officer in the packing order with little knowledge of the role or work of the officer being judged. The evaluation was prone to subjectivity and remained classified, only a few generous bosses would disclose their ratings to the subordinates that too only if it was pleasant enough. The officers were entitled to to be informed of only adverse entries but without any meaningful recourse to challenge or redressal. In many cases, the system worked as a tool of control or worse blind compliance by juniors for ensuring smooth carrier progression, boss' happiness was key to guaranteed promotions- a serious source of malign, dissatisfaction and demoralization. Many a bright carriers were ruined and many rogues reached the top unchecked- the public which was stakeholder in many cases simply had no say.

The Government was aware and conscious of the faulty and ineffective evaluation system but lacked conviction and determination for a meaningful overhaul. The Modi Government having come to power on the promise of performance, integrity and delivery, seems to have breached the earlier hesitation to adopt 360 degree evaluation for better determining the suitability of the officers both for promotion and deployment.

A very good beginning but the system is complex and would need its own very high standards of integrity, fairness and objectivity lest it degenerates into a new form of rewards and punishment driven by individual likes and dislikes of those in positions of power. Several earlier efforts produced limited results only for failing to meet these standards. A Committee chaired by Lt Gen (Retd) Surinder Nath, former Chairman, UPSC, set-up by the GOI in 2002 provided perhaps the most comprehensive approach to better performance appraisal, including 360 degree evaluation, promotions, mid-carrier capacity building, counseling and correction. It also sought to induct greater transparency and multiway discourse between the individual officers and the system for promoting capacity/skills, course correction, optimal deployment, lateral entry and if need be the weeding out of the dead-wood.

The subsequent years did witness significant changes in the appraisal/promotion system, training and transparency aspects but in no time developed their own anomalies-- some of the solutions turned into new problems with many cases landing in the courts.

While still grappling with the existing anomalies, we seem to be heading for another potentially game-changing reform. Though a well tried methodology in many organisations, the gains of 360 degree evaluation would depend on the quality, credibility and trustworthiness of the system itself. Important challenges are: selection of respondents and their appreciation of the value of their contribution, their own integrity and courage to provide honest views, the weightage to different segments which would vary from officer to officer, whether the assessment be numerical or narrative or both, each option with their own shortcomings, finally the balance whether it would be a tool for human resource development or appraisal for promotion and suitability for a particular post. These are initial days, the system could also face legal challenge for lack of clarity on norms, procedure and finally transparency.

Considering all aspects, 360 degree evaluation is definitely a big step forward for making the process more broad based, reliable and well rounded not only for determining fitness for promotions and deployment but also for identifying avenues of course correction through training and better matching capabilities with assignments-- but the most important challenge would be to guard it from becoming a tool of eliminating dissenting ideas or promoting
bias, pliability and blind conformity.

Writer Anup Mudgal is former Indian High Commissioner to Mauritius and member FICCI Task Force on Blue Economy. He can be contacted on anupkmudgal@gmail.com

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