One of FlashPoint’s core services is to provide support with performance management, and our consultants often work with HR and talent management professionals to examine essential elements of effective performance evaluation programs. These include well-developed competencies, goals, employee development and improvement plans, self-appraisal components, and defined rating scales.
As we’ve delivered presentations on performance management in recent weeks, one topic that has come up frequently in questions and conversation centers on how to ensure that managers across the organization are consistently applying rating scales when evaluating employees. We’re all familiar with the problem: the easy-going manager in customer service rates most of his employees fours and fives, while the tough-as-nails manager in accounting gives her staff members mostly twos and threes.
This clearly is a concern to the HR department. The goal of any performance management program, of course, is to accurately assess how well employees are doing their jobs. If managers aren’t consistently applying ratings then the performance evaluation tool isn’t effective—and it may, in fact, put the organization at risk.
So what does FlashPoint recommend you do to alleviate this problem?
- To begin, we advise that you help your managers across the organization understand the need for consistency in rating assignments. Make sure that managers recognize why it’s important that they accurately rate their employees and why all of them should take a similar approach. Discuss with them how this impacts areas such as compensation (including pay for performance), promotions, and discipline. Help them understand some of the consequences the organization may face if managers don’t consistently apply ratings (for example, charges of unfair labor practices). During the conversation, provide some examples of inconsistent language and scoring to help illustrate the concerns. Meanwhile, as you’re talking to managers, also be sure that your executive team members understand the importance of consistent ratings, gain their buy-in, and work with them to help set expectations from the top.
- Next, on your performance evaluation form, make sure you define the various rating levels you establish. For example, assume you have a rating scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning that the employee did not meet expectations and 5 meaning that he or she far exceeded expectations. What exactly does it mean to “not meet expectations”? You should include on the form a guide that defines this. For example, “1—Does Not Meet Expectations: The employee performs at a level that is consistently unsatisfactory and does not meet the basic position requirements. The employee will require significant performance improvement efforts.” In this example, the 5 rating might read, “5—Far Exceeds Expectations: The employee displays exemplary performance that exceeds position requirements and objectives. The employee serves as a role model for others and has a significant impact on organizational effectiveness.” Clearly delineating the ratings you create and defining in writing what performance looks like at each level will help your managers better apply them as they complete the performance evaluation form. On the form, ask managers to include examples showing why they assigned particular ratings (and if you have a self-assessment component to the evaluation, have the employee do this as well) so that all are clear on the behaviors/results and ratings.
- An essential measure is to provide your managers with training on the performance evaluation process. We recommend that you facilitate group trainings with managers, where you again explain the importance of consistent ratings, discuss the definitions of your rating levels, and then practice rating some sample employees. Getting managers together so they can work through examples, have open discussion about their philosophies and approach, and come to agreement will help guide them when they rate their own staff at evaluation time. We recommend that you conduct this training annually—you’ll likely hire or promote new managers who will need an introduction to it, and even longtime managers will benefit from the updates.
- At the end of the annual performance management training, offer to meet individually with any manager who wants one-on-one guidance. Invite those managers who have reviews they “dread” to get together with you to strategize. Suggest that you’re willing to review any evaluation form for any reason and provide feedback.
- To communicate accountability and minimize the need to reassess employee performance, some organizations ask that all reviews be read and approved by the next level of manager above the reviewing manager. Keep this in mind as an option. While this is time consuming, it does help ensure that examples match ratings.
- Finally, we recommend that HR take an active approach in auditing the evaluations. When managers return their completed evaluation forms, review them on multiple levels—not only to see that the managers filled them out accurately, but also to confirm that the content is meaningful and the ratings are consistent. Compile ratings data and look at patterns; watch to see if certain managers are scoring high or low, then investigate and address any concerns. Encourage managers to conduct reviews on time and audit them promptly for maximum effectiveness.
Focusing on consistent ratings is a critical part of performance management as it ensures fairness and the validity of the process. Because so many evaluation systems are based on ratings, and because those ratings impact so many talent management decisions, it’s important that they be accurate. Helping your managers properly assess employee performance and assign an appropriate rating is a significant responsibility, and it’s one that HR and talent management professionals should take seriously.
To learn more about how we can help your organization with talent processes, please email us or call 317.229.3035.