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Annual performance reviews are just around the corner for most organizations. This is the time when you’re meeting with your team members and discussing how well they did, where they need to improve and how you can support their development. If done right, you’ll be playing the role of mentor, coach and line manager to your employees and providing them the right feedback to tap into their full potential and progress their careers. However, at some point, like any good leader and line manager, you’ll wonder “am I truly helping my team grow?” If you allow me to help answer that question then I’d say no, you’re not. Not unless you’re using the power of calibration.

What’s the Performance Appraisal Challenge?

When I talk to employees of various organizations during engagement survey discussions I usually hear a similar complaint. Most employees find that performance appraisal assessments are subjective. Also, since every function has a different challenge and job requirement, they can’t relate their own performance with their colleagues from other functions or departments.

Next comes the challenge of inconsistencies in the application of the appraisals subjectively. As managers and leaders, all have our benchmarks and expectations that’s unique to us. While that can be great for an organization’s goal and strategy, it’s counterproductive when you’re aiming to have consistent performance levels from every individual in the organization. What really transpires is that one manager will be more generous than the others. Similarly, you’ll also have those managers who tend to be more stingy in their appraisal standards.

When you have these two factors at play you can imagine how ineffective your performance appraisal process ends up being. You’ll have demotivated, disengaged and underperforming employees all because you and your line managers weren’t able to design a process that’s aligned, synchronized and calibrated towards a common agenda.

Making The Process Work

First of all, let me clear a common misconception – assessments are by definition subjective. If you’re looking for objective assessments then you’ll be disappointed to know that they can and should never be that. The element that performance appraisal aims to measure isn’t the same for every individual or organization, hence, why it has to be subjective.

Having said that, you can, however, work to make the process fair by applying the same level of subjectivity across the board. Why should employees be penalized if their boss is stingy. Or why should only those employees reap the benefits whose boss is generous. To avoid this disparity you need to create consistency of criteria so that assessments of employees in one department are relatively comparable to the assessments of employees in other departments.

How do you create this “easier said than done” consistent criteria? You apply the power of calibration in your assessments before you even commence your performance meetings. The starting point is a discussion between all line managers within your organization. In this discussion they’ll compare, agree and cluster the performance and potential of all their employees, spanning the entire organization. What they’re aiming for here is:

  • Assessing their teams equitably and across the organization
  • Getting feedback from peers about their team members’ performance
  • Agreeing collectively on developmental needs and career paths
  • Unifying their ideologies and objectives to form a synchronized leadership team

Using the power of calibration you and your peer line managers can not only create more equity in your performance appraisal process, but also identify the organization’s high potential and top talent. This, of course, gives management and the leadership more visibility of high potential employees and provides you the ability to focus your developmental resources particularly on this group of talent.

Most of you may feel that the calibration exercise is an added step in the performance appraisal process that’s going to require more of your time (you’re probably also not keen on getting into lengthy debates with your peers). However, I assure you the time you invest in applying the power of calibration will be highly beneficial for you and your organization particularly in the form of higher productivity, a more engaged workforce and a stronger leadership pipeline. Try it this year and let me know how it goes.