When employees get to review their bosses, surprising things happen

For almost 120 years Hyde Manufacturing Co. found that its top-down management setup worked just fine. But in the late 1980s, when foreign competition began heating up, the Southbridge, Mass., manufacturer of hand tools and machine knives learned it had to be more agile, and so it decided to shift to a team-based structure.

However, it hasn't been easy for the $40-million family-owned business to convince the shop-floor supervisors that leadership no longer means giving orders. One thing that's helping smooth the transition is a new feedback system that gives employees the opportunity to review their team leaders.

Although peer reviews are nothing new to most team-based companies, upward reviews are still not the norm at most small manufacturing plants. Hyde's human-resources director, Dick Ayers, got the idea after doing some reading in the company's internal library and hearing a speaker at a conference. Under the team-based organization, Hyde's shop-floor supervisors had become "facilitators." Ayers knew they understood machines but not necessarily how to manage: "We had to convince them that it's important to address other areas, like how to motivate people." Because the emphasis was on constructive feedback, he decided not to tie the results to compensation.

Hyde started in November 1994 with a pilot program involving six teams, ranging in size from 5 to 20 shop-floor employees. Each team met with training manager Doug DeVries, who explained the point of the exercise and the evaluation categories and handed out the one-page review questionnaires. Within half an hour, the shop-floor reviewers had completed the forms. DeVries tallied the results, shredded the original forms to preserve anonymity, and scheduled meetings with the facilitators -- the reviewees -- to discuss the results.

The second review, held last November, involved almost all of Hyde's 308 employees. Shop-floor workers reviewed their facilitators. Those team leaders then rated their business-unit leaders, who in turn assessed the director of manufacturing operations. Ayers was reviewed by his subordinates, too. "None of us scored as well as we thought we would," he says. The big message from workers to bosses: "Be visible and be more involved."
Although team members welcomed the chance to give input, the exercise met with a mixed reception from the facilitators. Ayers estimates that 20% loved it, 20% loathed it, and the rest felt they could take it or leave it. Overall, the results have been positive. Hyde's reduction in voluntary turnover (now 7%, compared with 26% in 1989) owes something to improved morale. And employee input has helped the company become more efficient. After a number of workers reported that facilitators were difficult to reach in an emergency, the company stocked up on $300 two-way radios -- one for each facilitator and one for each team. The investment produced a surprising payoff. Hyde runs emergency drills three times a year, and on a good day the company could evacuate the plant in 10 minutes. Now, with the aid of the radios, everyone is out in 3 and a half minutes.

Since the second year's results have just come in, Ayers thinks it's too early to predict the long-term payoffs. The real challenge is to use the feedback to make big changes in the way Hyde is run. Says Ayers, "How people feel about this exercise is only going to be as good as the action we take to improve on weaknesses." In the future, Hyde expects that all the facilitators will report back to employees on how they plan to act on the results of their reviews.

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Sample Feedback form:

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Hyde Mfg. Co., Inc.

Manager Feedback

Please take a moment to complete this confidential and anonymous questionnaire. Please do not sigh your name. Return it to Douglas DeVries by __. Your feedback is important and will help identify areas for improvement in the coming year.

Rate each factor on a scale of 1 (superior) to 5 (needs significant improvement).

1. Explains company goals clearly

2. Keeps members informed

3. Gives clear job assignments

4. Understands what motivates members

5. Spends enough time with members

6. Discusses job requirements frequently

7. Recognizes good performance

10. Learns members career goals and offers career advice

11. Knows and uses members' skills

12. Provides resources to do the job

13. Listens to ideas

14. Credits members for usable ideas

15. Delegates important work

16. Consults members in decisions

17. Goes to bat for members with higher management

18. Tries to resolve disagreements and grievances


19. You could do more:


20. You could do less:


21. You should keep on doing:


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Human-resources director Dick Ayers talks up the feedback form:
Training manager Doug DeVries collects all the forms, consolidates the results on one master spreadsheet, and meets with each facilitator to go over the results. After their first review, three facilitators went back to their teams and discussed everything with them, but that's not mandatory.

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Number 4
The facilitators appreciate what the machines can and can't do, but they also need to understand what motivates people. The scores here will help convince them of that.

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Number 5
It's important to figure out whether managers are spending enough time with team members. If this score is low, it tells me a manager is too occupied with daily issues to spend any time planning and directing the staff.

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Numbers 10 and 15
The latest results show uniform areas of weakness for all managers, such as delegating important work and learning about team members' career goals. We're planning to sit down with the group of middle managers and the upper-level managers that were reviewed to set up a program to address the areas they all struggle with. We'll try to set goals to help them improve in those areas.

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Number 12
Some supervisors were upset that they were no longer just the boss, and since their sense of job security had always been based largely on their technical knowledge, they were reluctant to pass that experience on to their teams. The form should reinforce the idea that their role as a trainer is crucial.

Facilitator John Sinni learned that new employees felt that job training was inadequate, so he is planning to develop standard operating procedures based on input from his team members.

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Number 13
One manager learned that he needed to improve his listening skills. Although the follow-up part of the process is still largely informal, he came to us and requested the information that we have in our library on improving listening skills.

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Numbers 19, 20, and 21
It's easy to draw a ring around a number, but we wanted more details. So we included open-ended questions. A lot of workers complained that when facilitators walked by, they didn't greet or acknowledge them. It's a simple thing that many people aren't aware of, but when you get seven people saying you should know their names, it's important. Specific feedback will help the managers during the follow-up meetings at which the results are discussed.

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Number 18
We're basically trying to get facilitators and managers to listen to the concerns that folks have and to resolve disputes in a timely manner.