photo of Jason Lauritsen on HRExaminer.com 2015

Jason Lauritsen, HRExaminer.com Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Why Performance Ratings are Harmful

 
Recently, I had the opportunity to see the acapella group Pentatonix in concert with my family. They are a favorite of ours and have been since we first saw them on the TV show, The Sing-Off several years ago. If you aren’t familiar, I can only assume you spend very little time on Facebook or Youtube, as they are social media juggernauts.
 
As it happens, my brother-in-law is one of the few who hadn’t heard of Pentatonix. So when my sister won tickets to the concert, he had no idea who he was going to see or what to expect.
 
After the concert, we all weighed in on the inevitable post-concert question, “What did you think?”
 
My brother-in-law was blown away by the talent of the group. He hadn’t seen anything like it in the past and was completely impressed.
 
My wife and I, on the other hand, felt that the concert was good and fun. But, if we were really honest, we expected more. After five or six years of following the career of this group, we’ve grown accustomed to their freakish musical talent. We’ve had our minds blown by their abilities several times.
 
For us, the concert met—but didn’t exceed—our expectations. But it wildly exceeded my brother-in-law’s expectations.
 
Two divergent evaluations of the exact same experience. The difference being our expectations based on past experiences.
 
Herein lies the fundamental problem with performance ratings.
 
A performance rating is, in most cases, determined by a manager’s evaluation of an individual employee’s performance. The problem, of course, is that the manager is a human and thus is subject to the same kind of bias that I just highlighted in our evaluation of the concert.
 
If you have a manager who micromanages and expects work to be done exactly as he would do it (and has done it in the past), he will evaluate your performance in a very specific way.
 
On the other hand, you could have a manager who emulates a style of management she experienced in the past that was focused only on measurable results with little concern for “how” things got done.
 
As the employee, if you performed your job in the same way for these two managers, you could end up with very different ratings. With the first, you might miss your measurable goals, but because you did the work exactly as your manager asked, you might get a decent performance rating.
 
With the second manager, despite working incredibly hard and contributing extra value, because you narrowly missed your goal, you will be penalized with a low rating.
 
Same performance, different ratings. This is unfair at best and demoralizing at worst.
 
Employees deserve better.
 
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “We need to teach our managers to do a better job of evaluating people objectively.” In other words, fix the humans.
 
Unfortunately, as humans, we are hopelessly biased, particularly when it comes to other humans. Recency effect, confirmation bias, and halo effect are just a few of the biases that trip us up when it comes to objectively evaluating others.
 
Even with awareness that these biases exist, they are insidious in our decision making. We absolutely should do the work of neutralizing our biases, but it is impossible to remove them.
 
So, here is what you should do to remove and reverse the damaging effects of performance ratings.

  1. Remove the ratings. Any process that uses one human’s judgement to reduce another’s contribution to a letter or number should be eliminated. It’s harmful and inconsistent.
  2. Set clear and measurable expectations. If you aren’t sure how to measure an employee’s contributions in objective ways, then you aren’t clear on the value of their work. Keep working until you and the employee are crystal clear.
  3. Hold managers accountable for employees’ performance. A manager’s job should be the facilitation and cultivation of performance, not its evaluation. Shifting to a manager-as-coach model helps shift the focus. Coaches don’t decide who wins the game—the scoreboard does.
  4. Teach managers how to coach instead of manage. Management is about control. Coaching is about teaching, training and motivating. Coaches put players in the best position to succeed.

 
Performance ratings have overstayed their welcome. It’s time to put them in their proper place— as a relic of traditional management that proved to be more harmful than helpful.
 

 
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