HR Practices- a technical guide for managers

In the human resource management field there are many theories and applications that may assist an organizations development. A prescription that may be considered by management is the 360-degree feedback. This process is designed to help management understand the steps needed to develop leadership effectiveness. Crystal (1994) states (as cited in Fleenor & Prince, 1997) the 360-degree feedback process should elicit confidential information that can be interpreted by skilled facilitators who then relate the results to the participants. The use of this tool in organizations is becoming a popular method of developing managers.  Carey (1995) has also identified when used well this model can create productive relationships between managers and employees, thus adding value to an organization.

The emergence of 360-degree feedback as a tool for evaluating performances has merit if certain conditions are met. These conditions include organizational preparedness for 360-degree implementation, well-constructed surveys, confidentiality of participants, use of skilled facilitators to implement the process and follow up with developmental activities for the ratee (Coates, 1996).

The 360-degree feedback is a tool which may be utilized to raise awareness of individuals’ strengths and weaknesses and their impacts on others within the team. It can also demonstrate to employees that their opinions are valuable and worthwhile (Garvin, Morley & Flynn 1997). Feedback may be considered as ‘perceptions’ but perceptions matter as they influence how team members interact and behave towards the individual (Thomas 1996). For example, if someone is generally seen not paying attention to or acting on ideas from team members it is possible the flow of ideas will cease or be redirected. Perceptions are real because their consequences are real.

Edwards (1995) asserts that the impact of feedback can be affected by the person’s attitude prior to receiving feedback. A person who possesses a positive outlook on development and the feedback process may greatly benefit from the 360-degree process (Edwards 1995). The introduction of this tool must then be aligned to ‘organizational preparedness’ for any benefits to be maximized. The benefits are especially effective for organizations interested in growing and developing staff to a desired level and focus can be on talents, ethics, leadership and decisiveness (McCauley & Moxley 1996). The 360-feedback tools can provide candid data on participants to channel staff into appropriate training programmes or interventions (Denton 1994).

Care must be given throughout this process of evaluation to support staff that has been poorly ranked by their peers, for example, interpersonal skills ranked low by colleagues, may have negative impact on the process and restoring an employee’s self-esteem may be a difficult task (Edwards 1995). Using confidential feedback for development provides the recipient with the psychological security necessary for acceptance. Hearing personal information that may be different from one’s own perception may be confronting and difficult to accept. Dalton (1996) goes on to say that if the data is not private then the ratings themselves may be affected. The process should add value to an organization and be implemted and supported for positive development of both individuals and ultimately for organizational development.

There are two main perspectives: some believe that 360-degree feedback should be used for developmental purposes only; others feel that the 360-degree feedback may be utilized effectively in performance appraisal and decision making (Carey 1995). Commonality exists though on the point of timing which affects stakeholder trust of the process. Without trust the process may be eroded and any benefits may not be ascertained. Before implementation of this process an organization should define what the feedback is to accomplish and define goals and strategies and define the scope of the process.  The system may then be aligned to a competency model that defines necessary skills for the employee to achieve. The purpose of this 360-degree system is to provide a candid assessment on the ratee but also to stimulate improvement and to promote organizations’ strategic business objectives  (Heisler 1996).

At a glance, downsizing would appear to be a logical path to cut costs to improve profitability during difficult times. An organization considering this path must keep the focus of the remaining staff on the core business and day to day tasks (Holley 2009). Downsizing is likely to create fear and mistrust within the remaining staff and performance may suffer. The more downsizing occurs, the greater the risk of losing tacit knowledge from exiting staff, which may put unnecessary pressure on the organization. A nominated strategy of support will be necessary to be implemented to support the remaining staff who may encounter ‘survivor syndrome’. Research has shown that staffs who remain after a significant downsize may suffer adverse effects. These effects may be as profound as the departing staff (Baruch & Hind 2000). Some studies show that businesses that downsize have a propensity to do so year after year, for example in the United States, since 1980 repeated waves of highly publicized large scale layoffs have occurred in many States (Muñoz-Bullon, 2008). Companies which have been employing this method of cost reduction are still cutting back years later (Muñoz-Bullon 2008).

In contrast to this, strategic redundancy can help an organization align itself to its environment. The process would involve a proactive approach to repositioning itself with staff levels, staff competencies and re-engineering processes. ‘Restructuring can in itself be the catalyst for incremental strategic change towards making organisations more innovation-driven’ (Murray MGT 8034 2011). Part of this restructure would be the release of resources deemed necessary to reconfigure the organization to the desired level. Training of remaining staff to align resources to organizational strategy and objectives would be critical by line managers. Part of this challenge would be to manage staff and maintain performance whilst also developing staff potential and capabilities. This process may then rejuvenate an organization and align capabilities with objectives. These new conditions may then help drive innovations through resources and processes.

Organisations should define the scope, goals and align their systems to a competency model to achieve the preferred outcome.  Tables 1 and 2 below outline how companies can successfully apply the implementation of 360 degree feedback and strategic redundancies.

360-feedback with Basic Element. Table 1

Organisation Preparedness



Skilled Facilitators

Support and Training

Prepare all staff for 360 feedback

Quality surveys with purpose

For physiological support

To validate process

As identified by candid data to improve performance





Training aligned to competency model





Use human resources to drive innovation


Strategic Redundancy with Basic Elements. Table 2

Strategic redundancy

Remaining staff


Consult staff

Re-train staff / re-assign


Release resources

Skill staff / development

Re-engineer processes


Measure performance

Incremental innovation

Budgeting issues

Alignment to objectives

Achieve objectives



Before embarking on the process of staff reductions some issues may be considered including the loss of tacit knowledge which may be a considerable risk to the firm. All innovation comes through people so the loss of core assets should be given appropriate consideration. ”Trends driving innovation are individualisation and embedded intelligence, more and more customers want companies to respond to their specific needs”(Gruen & Sheldrake 2009 p.2). Considerable weight must be given to the consideration of developing staff to their full potential and capabilities. The success of firms in this knowledge era may be the relationship between strategy and human resource management strategy (Murray MGT 8034 2011).

Successful evaluation should make allowances for time, the possibility of making mistakes and even irrelevance (Mauzy & Harriman 2003). Managers should take a balanced view of organizational performance not only concentrating on bottom line results, but also considering the performance of the drivers of the results in context.  This may give managers an overall view and also allow an understanding of the environment in which the organization operates.

Before resources are released, organizations should give consideration as to whether they add value to communities and operate sustainably. These considerations must also include the human element and the effects that retrenchments have within the community that the organization operates. Muñoz-Bullon (2008 p2) states that “downsizing can have an unsustainable impact on both companies and the community alike”. Repeated downsizing may lead to a work force highly suspicious of management which may have a negative impact on personal performance, affect organizational culture and ultimately organizational performance.  Some elements of culture are shared values and beliefs, and expected behaviour from value and beliefs (Dobni 2008). These elements should be nurtured and supported by management throughout the organization.

Retrenchments may not be ideal as has been identified. Compensation is an aspect to be considered by an organization before embarking on human resource reductions and emotional and financial support may assist in the process of separation. Firms seeking separation by meeting only the minimum legal requirements may consider their standing in the community and how they are perceived. As stated earlier, perceptions are real because their consequences are real. Future organisational opportunities may be limited by poor public perceptions or a corporate image that is not appropriate or suited to their operation. With this knowledge an open and honest approach should be adopted in consulting with employees over workplace issues that affect ultimately organizations, staff and communities alike.

In summary, line managers should understand some concepts that are defining in organisational development. It is important that strategic human resources as opposed to old fashioned functional human resources are understood.

Comparisons can be drawn between old fashioned functional HR and strategic HR. Elements of strategic HR include engaging staff to drive results, seeing staff as an investment, developing competencies, strategic planning focused on talent needs, assigning goals and metrics aligned to the business strategy, rewarding employees for business results, measuring the results of deploying people and rewarding employees for their value (Deblauwe 2011). This replaces elements of old fashioned functional human resources, policy and records, compliance and discipline, temporary staffing, basic skills training, values and competencies and performance management (Deblauwe 2011). Strategic HR is likely to assist organisation development and drive innovations through a committed and valued human capital pool.

”Part and parcel of the challenge to manage and enhance the work performance of staff – is to develop their potential and capabilities” (Murray MGT 8034 2011).Strategic Human Resource Management is fundamentally about resources and turning these into capabilities that are much needed to drive business performance. Line mangers can use HRM factors such as training, mentoring of staff that may have performance gaps, team building and participation through consultation to ensure the right balance between strategic goals and developing staff competencies.

Once this programme has been identified and implemented, the task of evaluation and the need to measure the right combination of skills and competencies is a key requirement for successful managers. Developing performance metrics usually follows a process of establishing critical processes/customer requirements, developing measures, and establishing goals which the results can be compared with. Through the introduction of metrics organisations will develop focus on business projects, have stronger vision through insight into processes, and have assistance in accurate decision making through compelling data (North Carolina. Office of State Personnel. nd.). ”Evaluation is the last dynamic in the foundation of the creative process. Once aroused, a motivated, curious individual tends to continue tearing down preconceptions and establishing new connections until a satisfactory outcome materializes” (Mauzy & Harriman 2003, p18). This process of evaluation can be seen as invaluable to organizational development and achievement of goals and objectives.

After developing staff and measuring performance, a manager may consider re-organization of work teams to develop synergy between highly valued members of the organization. High performance firms look at many ideas: some breakthrough, but also many that are focused on the smallest detail for opportunities to improve and add value (Bills & Genasi 2003).

It has been illustrated the use of the 360-degree feedback tool can  be used to identify possible gaps in training, to assist the development of staff , performance measurement , and the re-structuring of work teams to create synergy. The retrenchment of staff is the least favoured option in strategic HR. The purpose of sound management is to create value within an organization and even amongst the community. To use resources aligned with strategic direction to make firms sustainable, innovative and difficult to imitate.       

by Neville Fuller