1. Decide on your approach to performance review calibration
When you begin designing your performance review calibration process, you’ll need to consider what you’re aiming to achieve and the best strategy to get there.
Does performance review calibration make you think of rating employees on a bell curve? Some companies choose to use this approach, also known as “forced ranking”. But forced ranking is controversial, and you’ll want to think carefully about whether it’s right for your organization.
Advocates of the bell curve claim it incentivizes employee performance and disincentivizes “too soft” grading by managers. This method forces managers to consider how employees stack up against one another, rather than succumbing to the temptation to rate everyone highly and avoid conflict.
But rating on a bell curve can create a culture of cut-throat competition. You risk frustrating employees, discouraging teamwork, and invoking accusations of unfairness — the exact thing you’re trying to avoid. For some teams, performance may not accurately fit the bell curve model. Perhaps all employees truly are five-star or one-star performers, and forced ranking would misrepresent their competencies.
Besides deciding whether or not to use forced ranking, you’ll need to consider if your current performance review system is effective. Ask yourself:
- What kind of ranking system are we using right now? (We recommend a five-point scoring system.)
- What does each number on the ranking mean? Is the phrasing we’re using to describe each number accurate (e.g., 1 = “needs improvement”)?
- How will this data hold up during the performance review calibration process?
Once you’ve given these issues some thought, set up a meeting with relevant stakeholders and outline the goals you’d like to achieve with your performance review calibration process. Then, use these goals to create a set of standards you expect all managers to meet with their grading.
2. Plan out how your calibration sessions are going to work
After deciding on your preferred approach to performance review calibration, you’ll need to plan how your sessions will work from a practical standpoint. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, this process may involve HR staff, external partners, senior executives, mid-level managers, or a combination of these. All parties will need to meet as a group to calibrate employee scores.
There are a few different ways to run performance review calibration meetings. You could schedule individual 1:1 meetings between HR staff and managers. You could also create a calibration committee made up of multiple managers in a single business unit and led by an HR staff member. Whatever you choose, it should be based on a realistic assessment of your timeline and resources. Once you’ve determined what works best for your company, put this plan into writing.
“We do calibration via live discussion and minimize an asynchronous process. That for us is more beneficial, but it means there is a high degree of coordination (scheduling), and discussions can run long if not well-facilitated and focused.
We could discuss everyone at length (and we love to say lots of positive things about people), but we also have to be efficient. So, over time, we’ve learned to focus more on individuals where there has been a change from the last cycle.” — Krystall Fierens-Lee
3. Have managers run performance reviews
Do you already have a pool of performance reviews ready to calibrate? If not, now is the time to check our playbook on running performance reviews and kick off review cycles. Make sure managers know what’s expected of them in terms of grading, particularly if you plan to use a forced ranking system.
If you’ve already run a performance review cycle, or if employees at your company are reviewed asynchronously, you can skip this step and go straight to the next.
4. Meet for calibration sessions
It’s now time to meet for calibration sessions. Go ahead and schedule your 1:1 or calibration committee meetings, based on the plan you created in step two.
“Essentially, I will sit with each functional management team to hear their first or second level calibration. Then I roll up all those discussions and share a summary with our executive team, including the CEO. And we discuss where there might be surprises, and we challenge the results that we have questions or doubts about.
My role is coordination, consistency, and of course, to participate in that calibration towards fairness and meritocracy.” — Krystall Fierens-Lee
5. Adjust performance ratings
Performance review calibration meetings are your opportunity to go over everyone’s ratings and adjust them together as a group.
During this process, you can use your people enablement software to get a big-picture overview of how managers are rating their employees. Work together to reach a consensus on how employees should be rated, then tweak your ratings to ensure all team members are being held to the same standards.
6. Communicate and share feedback with employees
The last step is to share the final, calibrated scores with employees. To avoid confusion, don’t share scores until performance review calibration is entirely finished. Managers should be prepared to explain their ratings and comments, and offer action items and next steps for each employee. At the end of the process, employees should clearly understand why they have received their ratings, what they are doing well, and how to improve.
Follow-up best practices for performance review calibrations
Continue to track employee performance over time
To ensure reviews remain fair and unbiased, continue to conduct performance review calibration meetings after each review cycle. This process should become easier over time, as managers become more familiar with review standards.
Calibrated performance review scores should give a good indicator of an employee’s progress at your company. Review scores can be used to make future decisions on compensations and promotion. However, you may want to separate compensation discussions from performance review talks, so that employees can focus fully on their professional development during the review process.
Keep managers up to speed on expectations
Remember those performance review guidelines you developed in step one? You may have already shared those with your managers; if not, be sure to do so now. Managers should be able to easily access and refer to these guidelines. Your managers may also benefit from continuous learning and DEI training to fight unconscious bias.
— Performance reviews are crucial for employee success! Learn how Leapsome can supercharge your performance review process, and check out our playbooks on how to write an employee performance review and how to run a leadership performance review. 😉