In my spare time, I’m teaching a human resources class at a local university and we got into this discussion about graphic rating scales on performance appraisals. If you’re not familiar, these are the 1-5 ratings given employees in various areas: quality of work, quantity of work, etc. Many companies use them because they’re easy to administer.
But I must admit, I struggle with a couple of things about graphic rating scales that I really wish organizations would address.
First is the issue about what the rating 3 (out of 5) represents. Most employees think it indicates average performance. I always say that’s wrong. It represents meeting the standard. And since most companies I know have pretty high standards, then 3 is good and maybe even great. It means you’re meeting the (high) standard.
Last time I checked, there’s nothing wrong with meeting the standard. If all of our employees met the standard, just think how great the company would be?!
The second issue is the 1 and 2 ratings. If 3 means you meet the standard, then 1 and 2 represent not meeting the standard. But I’ve never heard of degrees to which a person does not meet a standard. Either you meet the standard or you don’t. And if you don’t, why wouldn’t the rating be 0?
Dealing with 1’s and 2’s is merely a statistical manipulation of the numbers. Probably so managers can still give employees pay increases without dealing directly with the issues. My feeling is you’re not doing your employees any favors by playing this numbers game. If someone doesn’t meet the standard, it should be a 0 rating.
Graphic rating scales (or any kind of performance appraisal rating for that matter) only work if they’re clearly defined and managers understand them. If managers aren’t properly trained on how to set expectations and explain the performance management process, they’ll do things like call employees “average”. Or they’ll tell employees they aren’t performing to the company standard, give them a 2 rating and make sure they get a merit increase.
One of the best ways to keep employees engaged and get high performance is via a well-defined and properly executed performance appraisal and feedback process. I’m not talking big, elaborate or complex. Just make sure everyone understands how it works and use it properly.1