Steven Cesare, Ph.D.
A business owner from Texas called me the other day to talk about his company’s employee performance appraisal process. First off, I was extremely pleased that his company had a performance appraisal system in place and complimented him accordingly. He proceeded to walk me through the key documents (e.g., job description, performance appraisal form, employee documentation notes) and related steps (e.g., annual review timeframe, confidential meeting location, action plan follow-up).
Eventually, the conversation migrated to the actual ratings that were given to his employees (e.g., Foremen, supervisors, and management staff). Relying on the standard 5-point rating scale (e.g., “1” Unsatisfactory, “2” Below Expectations, “3” Meets Expectations, “4” Exceeds Expectations, “5” Role Model), he began to tell me he gave this Manager a rating of “2.5,” that supervisor a rating of “3.5,” and the salesperson a rating of “3+.”
Time for a coaching moment.
I informed the conscientious business owner that the burden of proof in a performance appraisal process is on the employee to demonstrate a consistent performance level throughout the entire rating period (i.e., calendar year). The burden of proof is not on the person giving the ratings, to assign any benefit of the doubt to the employee’s performance. Predicated on that standard, I coached the business owner to always “round down” and never “round up” when assigning a performance appraisal rating to an employee. In specific, I suggested that the rating of “2.5” given to the Manager should be a “2,” while the rating of “3.5” for the supervisor should be reduced to a “3,” and so on for the remaining employees who received a decimal score.
Elevating performance appraisal scores serves a minimal useful purpose. Of course, they may make the employee feel better about his/her performance rating for a short period of time. However, elevated performance ratings erode the integrity of the performance appraisal form, create the impression that the employee is doing better than in reality, and may cause problems if any legal dispute if those performance appraisal records are subpoenaed in the future.
Naturally, I suggested that if the business owner wanted to use a different rating scale (e.g., 1-10 instead of 1-5) to reflect performance ratings more accurately in his mind, we could certainly create it. Nevertheless, I reminded him that even with a 10-point rating scale, the same mindset would hold true to always “round down.” As such, no decimal rating of “6.75” or “8.5” would be permissible in that scale either.
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