Will 360° feedback evaluation work for Indian Civil Servants?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Civil servants at an informal meeting at his residence in Delhi in April 2015. Picture Credits: www.narendramodi.in

The Government of India in 2015 had announced the introduction of a 360° Feedback Evaluation system for the empanelment of Civil servants across departments and the country. The much-hyped plan back then faced a heavy backlash from several political parties and organizations. Taking the opposition into consideration, the government had invited civil bodies to give their opinion about the plan. While the debate found a corner in the news, recently in a written reply to a question asked in Rajya Sabha, Union Minister Jitendra Singh announced that the government has not received any objection from any Civil Servant body regarding the 360° Feedback system. The government plans to use the 360° evaluation as a tool for appraisal of the civil servants. The multi-source feedback will gather reviews from various stakeholders including seniors, peers, and juniors. Apart from these, the government also plans to use overall service record, vigilance status, and suitability of the officers concerned for the empanelment of these officers.

But what is 360° Feedback?

360° Feedback is a system that has primarily been used in business corporations across the globe for leadership assessment and development of managerial personnel and senior executives. The feedback system has also been incorporated in govt, public services organizations across the globe. As per the 360° feedback process, an employee receives anonymous feedback from his/her peers, managers, co-workers, subordinates and in some scenarios from those outside the organization, like customers and partners. The scope of feedback and the parameters depend on the defined purpose and usage of the feedback.

In a business organization, normally a 360° feedback system helps the organization enable and empower their leaders to contribute better by being aware of how their environment perceives their work-related behavior and contribution. It helps identify opportunities to better the management and leadership and help them create higher value for themselves and the organization. In any 360° feedback focussed on leadership development, multiple questions in the form of a rating scale, relating to specific leadership competencies are used to gather feedback from the peers, reporting manager, team members, and others in the internal and external ecosystem of the concerned leader for whom the feedback is being generated. The respondents are expected to provide their feedback, based on the behavior that they observe at the workplace, and during professional interactions with the subject of the feedback. The person receiving feedback also fills out a self-rating survey that includes the same survey questions that others receive in their forms.

Big corporations typically use a 360 feedback system in one of two ways:
1.) 360° Feedback works as a Development Tool to help employees recognize strengths and weaknesses and become more effective.
2.) 360° Feedback acts as a Performance Appraisal Tool to measure employee performance.

Although the evaluation process has been widely accepted in the business ecosystem, many are skeptical about its implementation in the government sector. Defying from the government’s stand, Uttar Pradesh IAS Association Chief Pravir Kumar in an interview to The Print has said, “The Modi government’s corporate-style 360-degree evaluation for civil servants is like “an opaque black box,” which is extremely vulnerable to misuse.”

Many including a parliamentary committee, have demanded that the government brings more transparency to the process. The process has also come under scrutiny after an IAS Officer Vineet Chawdhry moved to the Central Administrative Tribunal challenging his rejection for a secretary-level appointment. Chawdhry argued that the system led to discrimination against officers and that it was not governed by any legal procedure. He stated that the 360-degree system was “neither reasonable nor rational, a whimsical exercise of arbitrary executive authority far in excess of any delegated legislation, neither resting on any legislation nor any rules and neither transparent nor fair.”

Despite the parliamentary committee recommendations that the central government must frame guidelines on the process, the 360-degree system continues to operate without any guidelines that could address these concerns.

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