Our performance appraisal form has a rating scale that asks whether the performance failed to meet expectations/met some expectations/met all expectations/exceeded expectations/far exceeded expectations. If I haven't discussed my expectations with the employee, how do I rate performance?
Contained in this question is the best argument for conducting a performance-planning discussion at the beginning of the year. If you don't know what you're looking for, how will you know when you find it? Ideally the manager and the individual will discuss each of the manager's expectations at the start of the year and will come to an understanding of what the manager considers to be fully successful performance. If they do this, it will not only make it easier for the manager to accurately assess the quality of the job the individual has done, it will also increase the probability that then two of them will agree on the accuracy of the assessment. But if no expectations have been set, then it's more difficult for the manager and more likely that the two parties won't see eye to eye.
But often the performance-planning discussion hasn't taken place or, more likely, over the course of the year new programs, expectations, and objectives have arisen that weren't subject to formal determination and communication of objectives. In this case, the manager must simply assess the quality of performance using his experience with similar people facing similar assignments. The manager needs to be prepared, too, if the assessment is anything other than stellar, to discuss the employee's reasonable rejoinder: "Why didn't you tell me what you wanted at the beginning of the year?"
Tell Me More
An effective way to justify and explain the ratings you are assigning to the individual's performance is to correlate the rating of the performance with the message that you are trying to send the individual about the quality of his performance. For example, with the rating scheme of far exceeded expectations/exceeded expectations/achieved expectations/met some expectations/did not meet expectations, the message sent by each rating category is as follows:
Far Exceeded Expectations. Your performance has been genuinely outstanding. Few other people have ever produced the results that you have achieved. You far exceed all reasonable performance expectations. Other people talk about the high quality of your work. You have achieved remarkable success in both producing highly impressive results and in developing uncommonly successful working relationships. The quality of your work is so outstanding that no rating other than "far exceeded expectations" could even be considered. No one would dispute that you are one of the most talented individuals in our organization. Performance at your level of quality is truly rare.
Exceeded Expectations. Your job performance is significantly and noticeably better than that of other people. There are no areas in which you are not entirely proficient. The high quality of your work provides a model to others in the organization, both in terms of the results you achieve and in your interactions with others to achieve those results. There is no area in which your work needs to be improved. You routinely exceed expectations. The quality of performance you provide is an example for other people to aim for. You are a great asset to this organization.
Met All Expectations. You are doing a completely satisfactory and fully respectable job. Your performance in every area of your job is entirely competent, efficient, and constructive. There are several areas in which your job performance is better than average and no part where specific improvement is needed. Both the results you achieve and the way in which you go about performing your job are good examples to others. You are very well qualified for this position. You fully meet all job expectations and frequently exceed them. You can be proud of the quality of your work.
Met Some Expectations. While you do some parts of your job fairly well, there are other parts that you do not perform at a fully acceptable level. You are doing reasonably well, particularly if you haven't been doing this job for a lengthy period, but you're not yet at a totally competent level of performance. You often are able to act independently, but your work requires more supervision than should be necessary. Your performance in many ways is good, but it needs to be better.
Failed to Meet Expectations. Your performance in not acceptable. It does not meet the minimum expectations for this job. You must make an immediate and dramatic correction.
Notice that the narrative for the middle rating had no suggestion that the performance was merely average, or just acceptable, or mediocre. Instead, the middle rating was written to communicate that the person's job performance was fully successful.