Crowdsourcing management reviews: doing it before staff do it for themselves


[This post first appeared on Getting Results From Crowds book website]

Harvard Business Review has once again kicked off the year with a List of Audacious Ideas. One of them is Crowdsourcing Management Reviews for Better Management. Authors Linda Hill and Kent Lineback say:

Here’s the situation we described: A group of employees has set up an independent website where all employees can use online social collaboration tools to assess their bosses on eight key managerial dimensions — such as delegation, communication, clarity of direction, and the like — taken from your company’s basic course on management. All the individuals’ ratings for a boss are aggregated into a single rating for each dimension. Individual comments are aggregated into a single review — like a wiki, which is a single document composed by multiple authors. If an individual employee disagrees with the collective assessment, there is a way to record his or her dissent anonymously.

We believe employees are increasingly likely to set up such review sites themselves. Why? In general, because of people’s obvious interest in their bosses — look at all the online commentary on that subject today — and specifically because of the disparity in many organizations between what the firm says, explicitly or implicitly, it expects of managers, and the often mediocre (or worse) bosses it actually condones. As such sites appear, companies will be forced to answer the question we asked above: What would you do?

In the article, we suggested that crowdsourcing management reviews may actually present an opportunity to improve the practice of management. But limited space forced us to exclude an important aspect of our argument — how and why this approach can actually provide this significant benefit.

This is of course an extension of the common 360 degree reviews already in practice in many large organizations. One of the differences is that the authors recognize that these are likely to happen without authorization if they don’t first happen under the auspices of the employer. I have written about sites such as FirmSpy that allow anonymous discussion of what is happening in professional firms. That is far less likely to happen if people are given an internal space to provide feedback, not necessarily bounded by those who report directly to specific managers.

Hill and Lineback add (their bold):

Crowdsourcing would improve on current methods of management development, which are well-intentioned but often not as effective as they could be, because crowdsourcing would make the manager’s everyday work the venue where real learning occurs.

Crowdsourcing applies across all domains. It is, as I describe, “tapping the minds of many,” and that is immensely relevant inside organizations. In Getting Results From Crowds we focused more on external crowdsourcing, though also look at how larger organizations can crowdsource internally for innovation and insights. Some of those insights can be directly applicable to improving management and managers. We may devote more attention to this in the Second edition of the book.