While at the PeopleFit “Assessing Raw Talent” class this last week, I heard that it is common for people to overestimate the CIP (Elliott Jaques’s idea of Complexity of Information Processing) of persons who have a lower CIP and to underestimate their subordinates who have a higher CIP than they do. I figured that they were simply citing Wood’s article. Nope, it turns out that they’ve seen this in evaluations.
Wood’s article is pretty interesting. He tested employees’ self-ratings, their managers’ ratings of them, and their peers’ rating of them against an assessment center’s rating of them. It turns out that the people who have the very highest opinion of themselves were the worst in assessment. But the best performers consistently underrated themselves.
Not only that, but peers were likely to overrate underperformers within their own group, while managers were likely to underrate high performers.
…those who rated themselves in the mid-range of the scale were more likely to be high performers than those who rated themselves at the top or bottom ends of the scale. Furthermore, those who rated themselves most highly tended to be the poorest performers… [S]upervisor ratings successfully discriminated between overestimators but were not as successful at discriminating underestimators, suggesting that more modest feedback recipients might be underrated by their supervisors… Perhaps, like feedback recipients themselves, peers were conscious of the evaluative nature of 360-survey feedback and felt the need to exaggerate the performance of poor performers in order to boost ther overall evaluation.
From an Requisite Organization / Stratified Systems Theory perspective, let’s look at this again. You tend to think of people as being as high-stratum as yourself. If these poor performers were overemployed (one stratum below the role) then the peers may have simply not been able to see them properly. Managers did not ferret out the underestimators (those who perform higher than they self-rated) because they were probably in the same or higher stratum as the manager. But without data it’s just speculation.
Anyway, yet another piece to bolster my opinion that 360-degree feedback programs don’t do what their proponents insist that they do. In this, I am in agreement with Ed Schein and oh so many others I respect. I know that some folks get a lot from their 360s, but there is just such a paucity of supporting research. They sound great but you can’t run a business on what you want to believe in. You have to use data.
Wood, Robert E. (2002). “Self-versus others’ ratings as predictors of assessment center ratings: Validation evidence for 360-degree feedback programs”. Personnel Psychology, Dec. 22, 20002: pp.?. From the HiBeam Online Research Library
Image Credit: Belgian royal conservatory’s dome, interior with sun. © E. Forrest Christian