Many performance evaluations are set up so an employee has to rank herself on a scale of 1 to 5.  Many of these evaluations make the mistake of simply saying “1” is the lowest score and “5” is the highest.  What happens is a mirror of our educational system, where a “5” (or an “A”) is considered the only worthy score, and everyone skews their scores toward the “5” marks.  A “3” is considered almost below par, and a “2” is unheard of.

I find this system to be counterproductive to the spirit of a performance evaluation.  A “5” isn’t something that everyone should automatically get for being just average.  A “5” should be truly exceptional, an outlier on the bell curve of employees, and something actually worth talking about.

If you’re in charge of the scaling system on your performance evaluations, I encourage you use this system instead:

  • 1 = Need immediate, drastic  improvement.  Failure to improve affects the employee’s ability to work effectively.  Put employee on a probation plan, with clear outlines on what is expected of them.
  • 2 = Some improvement required.  Talk with manager about concrete ways to improve.
  • 3 = Meets expectations.  A positive score.
  • 4 = Exceeds expectations.  Someone who goes above and beyond.  A cut above most other employees.
  • 5 = Superstar.  Used only for extremely exceptional circumstances.  Might include a bonus or perk for achieving such a high mark.

When you use this type of scale for skills, you can very clearly show an employee their strengths and weaknesses.  It gives a person praise for what they do well, and a chance to evaluate areas for improvement.  If their peers also fill out a form, they can see a definite pattern emerging on their work behavior that a manager can use to create a performance plan for the next period.

If you always give someone all “5s,” though, you might as well not have a performance evaluation at all.  If a person is truly perfect and there’s no room for improvement, why bother?  If you truly do believe everyone is giving their all for your team, ask yourself further if you’re taking enough risks, or just doing the “same old, same old” job day in, and day out.  Most businesses can’t afford complacency, so consider changing the environment, rather than your team members, in this situation.

-Deborah Fike

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