Our rating scale is numerical: one, two, three, four, and five, with five being the highest on the scale. Sally basically did a good job this year. Should I rate her a three, a four, or a five?

To begin, recognize that you've got a bad form. Good performance appraisal forms don't require appraisers to reduce people's performances to a number. But however the form is structured, you're stuck with it. Do your best.

Your best involves telling the truth. If Sally did a good job this year, and a good job is what you expect, then she met your expectations. Give her a rating of three.

Should employees in new roles be measured and evaluated the same as employees who have been in a role for a length of time?


Tell Me More

It's likely that the person who is new to the job is not going to do it as well as someone with a couple of years of experience. That's understandable. But the manager will make a mistake if she tries to compensate for that individual's lack of experience by giving him an inflated rating.

It's an easy temptation to rationalize less-than-satisfactory performance by accommodating the individual's lack of experience. But rating an individual higher than she deserves because she is new on the job (even if the manager is sure the employee will earn the higher rating once she gains the necessary experience), is almost always a mistake.

First, the individual is probably aware that her performance isn't yet up to the fully satisfactory level. If the manager rates it as fully successful, then the message to the individual is that she is working for a manager with low standards. Even if the manager tries to justify the satisfactory appraisal rating by explaining that he is sure that her performance will improve to that level once she has some more experience, the individual realizes that she is working for a boss who is probably willing to cut corners and make excuses in other areas too.

A worse outcome will result if the individual takes the manager at his word and accepts the manager's judgment that her performance, poor as it is through lack of experience, is in fact fully satisfactory to the manager. By rating the performance at a higher level than deserved, the manager is providing a disincentive for the individual to improve.

Hot Tip

Most performance appraisal forms provide for both a rating and a narrative. The narrative is the area where the new-to-the-job explanation belongs. It is quite possible for the manager to write, "In spite of the fact that Sally has been on the job for four months, she is performing at a level that most people don't reach until they have twice the experience. While her specific performance rating reflects the fact that she has not yet achieved full mastery of the position, her efforts and successes to date suggest that she will soon be at a fully successful level of performance."

How can we take the "personal'' out of a review and still give an accurate picture of the employee? For example, Joe's going through a divorce. His performance has suffered, but I empathize and want to give him a passing review.

It's understandable to want to avoid giving someone a mediocre review when we know that there are external factors that have caused a temporary performance deterioration. But the quality of the performance itself is what is being assessed. To fudge the facts and give someone a break because of external factors destroys the fundamental assumptions that performance appraisals are accurate and are written with integrity.

Tell Me More

There's a better way to handle a situation like this. Instead of writing a performance appraisal that in fact is not true, alert the individual that you have noticed a performance deterioration as soon as it becomes apparent. Talk with Joe about the fact that you're particularly concerned about his performance, not only because the quality of his work is suffering, but also because at performance appraisal time you won't be able to give him the satisfactory rating his good performance has earned him in the past.

There are two reasons for bringing up the possibility of a poor rating well before performance appraisal time. First, doing so can provide a significant incentive to change. Knowing that the boss has noticed the performance deterioration and will not make excuses when it's time to write the appraisal may have the beneficial effect of snapping Joe out of his slump and getting back to being the high performer that he was before.

Second, it alerts Joe to the consequence of continued poor performance so that there will be no surprises when the "fair" rating shows up where a "superior" rating had always been.

Red Flag

Making excuses for performance deficiencies is always a mistake. It is no more appropriate to write an inaccurate review to mask someone's failure to perform (even if for an understandable reason) than it would be to write an inaccurately negative review for someone who has performed at an excellent level because the manager feels that the excellent performance resulted from some temporary condition that is not likely to be sustained. Tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

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