Performance Reviews Require Calibration

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

May 15

In the end, if we all make our goals and are extremely competent, we won’t get the same ratings. No group can be “Outstanding”  down the line.

We must go through “calibration.”

Calibration consists of two separate, but equal challenges.

First, each manager must rank each person from top to bottom in their group.

Second, each manager must rank their people and the people from like groups within the department.

If there are 10 people in your group, there is a ranking from one through ten — even if each person is ranked outstanding.

Then, this ranking is taken to another manager or group of managers and their group is included in the overall group. Now 30-people are  in the total group, and the group is ranked 1-30 — even if every person is ranked outstanding from the perspective of their goal attainment.

Calibration is where all talent, regardless of performance, is put into a ranking of best to worst. If all people on your team are outstanding, it doesn’t matter; they are ranked from best to worst.

Then, they are thrown into a bigger group and ranked again.

Truth be told, I am conflicted about calibration. One the one hand, I appreciate the fact that one manager can’t simply rank their team as all “outstanding” when each person on their team really isn’t.

On the other hand, the forced ranking — the same one used in layoffs — tends to downgrade the ranking (and pay increases and bonuses) of outstanding teams. There is simply too much pressure to force the rankings to accommodate other manager’s teams.

And if you are “on the bubble” — a person who could be ranked one way or another — calibration will more likely force you to the lower ranking.

As well, if your manager doesn’t have good information to defend your ranking from a results viewpoint, the probability that you will be ranked well decreases.


As you can see, I am conflicted about calibration. As a manager, I always went in every calibration session with “results” oriented information to defend my ratings and rankings of my people. I appreciated the ability to knock down the rankings of other groups whose manager thought they walked on water but delivered little.

Yet, good people got ranked lower — and their rating (salary increase and bonus) dropped because of the intense pressure of letting the other manager give their due to their people that you didn’t know as well.

Working in a cube means that you need to understand the calibration process. You need to provide your manager good information to defend your realm of accomplishments. And hope that your manager is good in these sessions to get you your deserved ranking.

But the end result of calibration is that it forces the workforce into a “bell curve” of accomplishment. No matter the accomplishment, some people are in the bottom 15% and not getting a bonus or salary increase. Or are gone.

People who get a “meets expectations” often exceeded their goals and deserved more but don’t get the rating because of the ranking and calibration process.

The bottom line is that if you are a results oriented business and you totally exceed your goals, you most likely will be calibrated to some sort of average.

Having a killer year doesn’t mean getting a killer bonus and salary increase. It’s instead “calibrated” to an average, killing your engagement.

I love calibration. I hate calibration. There’s no way to win.


About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.