[Viewpoint] Evaluation system worth keeping

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[Viewpoint] Evaluation system worth keeping

There is nothing scarier than other people’s eyes, because they are usually more perceptive than my own. This is especially true when those eyes are fair and penetrating. The phrase “while many people are watching” is used when someone acts shamelessly. We consider a crime to be more heinous if it is committed while many people are watching. A multisource evaluation applies this logic in job promotions and assessments. Not just the boss gets to evaluate those under his management, but also colleagues and fellow team members review the manager as well.

Though the origin of multisource evaluation remains controversial, it is widely believed that British intelligence services first introduced the system. In Asia, Zengzi is considered the originator. In “The Great Learning,” he wrote, “When 10 eyes are watching and 10 hands are pointing, the judgment is strict and fair.” You might be able to deceive one or two persons, but you cannot fool the eyes and ears of the world. In the same context, Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

In Korea, former president Roh Moo-hyun was the first to understand the meaning of multisource evaluations. While serving as the minister of maritime affairs and fisheries in 2000, he adopted the system when making appointment decisions. He innately disliked hierarchy and authoritarianism, but there were other reasons as well. At the time, he was harassed by people asking favors for appointments. He did not want to grant the requests, but rejection would often lead to awkward situations. So he changed the promotion and appointment system so that solicitation could not influence decisions. The outcome was very satisfactory. When Roh became president, he was an advocate for multisource evaluations. In January 2003, as president-elect, he announced that such evaluations would be the backbone of pubic appointments, and when someone was caught asking for a favor, he would be greatly embarrassed. He started with the Blue House, and by the following year, the system spread to 40 of the 47 central administrative agencies.

The Ministry of Defense, which used to be known for strict hierarchy, was no exception. A Blue House insider proudly said that appointments and promotions were increasingly uninfluenced by the hierarchy based on length of service, favors or pressure.

However, the multisource evaluation was obstructed by the public servants’ labor union. The union used the system as a strategic weapon. Among public servants, there was talk that those who were not cooperative with the union would receive negative feedback from the system. In order to get promotions and appointments, civil servants had to make regular visits to the union office, pay additional union activity dues and please union leaders.

An employee at a municipal office said that the multisource assessments encouraged civil servants to participate at once even though they had not banded together well before. One of the weak points of the multisource evaluation system is bullying, and the union abused it fully. So voices grew that multisource assessments should be abolished in order to keep the public servants’ union in check.

The controversy began during the Roh administration and continues to this year.

Last weekend, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security requested that local autonomous agencies not to use multisource evaluations this year.

The ministry reasoned that the system is abused and can be a factor for a manager in line for a promotion to overlook the illegal union activities of a team member. A few days ago, the Blue House also announced that it would not use the system starting this year. A Blue House official said that the evaluation of a boss by subordinates often turns into a popularity contest, and they are looking for ways to improve the assessments. He also mentioned the possibility of an overall reform in the evaluation system.

Despite all the controversies, multisource evaluations are not at fault. The union and the government are responsible for abusing any weakness in the system. No matter how fair an evaluation might be, the system is flawed if appointment decisions are made independently from the evaluation results. In the last administration, people joked that personal connections came before the multisource evaluations. Those who contributed to the election victory ignored the evaluation result and abused the power of appointment. The Lee Myung-bak administration is not free from the criticism either. When a minister recommends someone as the most suitable candidate, he is often asked what the candidate did for the presidential campaign.

It is better to correct and improve the system rather than get rid of it completely. One solution could be a top-to-bottom multisource evaluation. The evaluation of co-workers and bosses would be eliminated, but an employee would be assessed by not just his direct boss but also other related managers. Doosan Group has been using this system for the last few years to considerable success.

*The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

by Yi Jung-jae
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