There are some wacky ideas out there
when it comes to rating employee performance.
If your organization's performance evaluation system uses a rating scale, you
have inevitably heard some crazy ideas about performance evaluations. The
following "myths" prevent us from using the performance evaluation
ratings to improve employee performance. Instead, they detract from focusing on
tools and conversations for improving performance. Have you heard any of
have to "walk on water" to get the highest rating. This is a
common catchphrase that's used in organizations when expectations have not been
clearly defined. If a rating appears on the performance evaluation form, it
must be possible to achieve. For example, if you use a five-level rating scale
with "5" as the highest rating, it's the manager's responsibility to
describe what five-level performance looks like. Using crutches like, "you
have to walk on water to get a five" is a poor excuse for not being clear
about what good performance looks like.
Performance evaluation ratings are an arbitrary judgment. It's true that
the final determination about performance ratings is a judgment that is
reserved for the supervisor. However, the best supervisors have clearly defined
what performance looks like at various levels, and they use those expectations
to help employees understand what it means to be successful. Evaluation ratings
are arbitrary when leaders don't take the time to define expectations. Only
leaders can determine what exceptional performance is at your
Performance ratings allow management to quantify performance. Just
because there is a numeric rating scale doesn't mean you've quantified
performance. By rating employees and adding up the numbers to determine an
overall rating, you will get a score. That score, however, isn't necessarily a
valid measure of the performance.
Think of it this way. You calculate a rating for two employees, Joachim
and Sherry, based on a 100-point scale. Joachim earns a score of 85.6
and Sherry earns a score of 86.5. Is Sherry really a worse performer than
Joachim? Probably not. Unless you have a very automated and measured work
environment and you don't consider hard to measure factors like interpersonal relationships,
customer service, and problem solving ability, a 0.09 point difference in an
overall rating is probably meaningless.
Last year's performance ratings correlate to this year's performance
ratings. When you sit down to complete a performance evaluation for an
employee, you may be tempted to pull out last year's evaluation and use it to
inform this year's evaluation. Don't do it! Performance evaluations are a
summary of the work an employee has done during a defined period of time.
The ratings should reflect the performance for just that time period.
Considering how you rated the employee in the past year only leads you to
consider factors that are irrelevant to preparing a summary for the current
The Human Resources Department is responsible for defining the rating scale.
Your Human Resources Department may administer the performance evaluation
process. They may even be the drivers behind your forms, workflows, and rating
scale. However, they are not in a position to define how the scale is applied
to individual employee performance (unless the individual employee works for
HR). Only you, the manager, can decide what performance looks like at various
levels on the scale. It's your job to be able to answer the question,
"What does it take to earn a '5' on my performance evaluation?"
There should be an equal number of high ratings and low ratings across
the organization. Forced distribution of performance ratings creates
negative consequences for any organizational culture. When your
organization requires that a certain number of employees should get lower
ratings or that only a certain number are eligible to receive the highest
ratings, performance evaluations become a game. Because so much is often riding
on the final "grade," employees become highly competitive and
individually focused, losing sight of the customer and the importance of
teamwork. Forced distribution also assumes that there are groups of employees
who are not achieving. It does not consider that few employees should be in the
lower part of the scale if the organization's selection processes are strong or
if managers are coaching employees to improve performance. Forced distribution
is an aggressive approach, widely used in competitive work environments, but
not without costs.
Rating employee performance is a part of the role you assume when you
supervise. They should be based on an application of specific examples of
performance to a scale that has been defined and applied to the job. The myths
defined here only create a barrier to meaningful and useful discussions with
employees about variations in their performance.
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