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Taking the number out of the equation: Performance evaluations without performance ratings

Posted by Ken Klaus on November 22, 2008


As this year’s performance evaluation fades into blissful insignificance and with my next evaluation still six months away, I am convinced (a lie) my manager will forget all about this post long before we meet again to discuss my competency skill gaps and developmental shortcomings.  So here’s a heaping bowl full of healthy honesty – I don’t like performance evaluations.  Not any part of them.  I would not like them by a lake; I would not like them served with cake.  I do not like them, Ken I am.  And without a doubt the worst part of the whole business is that loathsome, nausea inducing, numerological abomination: the performance rating.  Why do we feel the need to apply these over-simplified labels to people, when there is an abundance of evidence that a label cannot possibly convey the whole truth about the person or their achievements?  Can it be this ponderous process of perfidious personification has its roots in the education system where grades and achievement were forever linked together as a reminder of our academic success or failure?  Are we still trapped in the endless cycle of report cards and parent / teacher conferences?  If so, then I think it’s time for our performance management process to do some growing up!  I simply do not want anymore report cards.  I’m done with grades, and ratings, and the whole lot. 


Wow, that was really cathartic.  I feel much better now.  Thanks for listening.


So now I think a healthy dose of reality is in order, because I do understand and accept that managers, like teachers, must have a way to measure a worker’s performance.  I also understand the importance of comparing one worker’s performance with another’s, especially when the results impact compensation plans and promotions (though I think the whole bell curve model is pile of horse manure – but that’s a topic for another day).  As such, I am willing to accept that assigning a rating value is an easy and (mostly) objective way of evaluating worker performance.  But I can see no need to ever share the rating assessment with the worker (me) – because the rating is not meant for me, it’s just a tool for my manager.  I also think we do far more harm than good when we share the rating with the employee, because most of us cannot separate what we do from who we are.  I think this is especially true in the United States, where our work ethic has litterally become an addiction.  Think I’m wrong?  I’ll pause while the crackberry and iPhone (ab)users finish sending those emails. 


Wow, more ranting and a little “holier than thou” name calling.  I feel like a new man.  My apologies to the Blackberry / iPhone community. 


So I guess this is the point in the blog where I’m supposed to bring it all home.  Layout the answers to all the hard questions and penetrating issues I’ve raised in the last two paragraphs.  The easy answer of course is for the corporate world to embrace my idea and abandon performance ratings, with immediate effect.  I’ll pause while HR sends out that announcement.


Did you get it yet?


Okay, so maybe I won’t hold my breath.  But I still think we would all be better off if we dumped our rating systems and found a healthier, more mature way of evaluating and developing our workforce.  In the mean time, while the really smart people figure this stuff out and because you took the time to read this entire post, I’m giving each of you the tippity-top most, highest, super-achiever rating available.  Well done, you have seriously exceeded my expectations.  So feel free to print out your favorite badge from the options below.  Wear it proudly, but remember that what makes you amazing is who you are and not what you do or even how well you do it.  Peace!


you_rock__you_rule   winner-win   grades1 

4 Responses to “Taking the number out of the equation: Performance evaluations without performance ratings”

  1. Meg Bear said

    how fun that you and Marcie were thinking similar things this week ;-).

    As a long-time manager, I find your perspective interesting and refreshing. I especially like your point that the ratings are more for me, this is really true. I think that ratings become necessary to force managers to do the right things. This is also the reason for forced distributions as well. It is proven that without these requirements many managers will avoid being honest and forthright about performance. I keep coming back to the fact that better managers really are what we need for better peformance processes. This is not the answer most want to hear since it’s very complex to “fix” and it is not something software can solve.

    Being an over-achiever I think I’m taking the A+ sticker myself 😉

  2. Ken Klaus said

    Sweet – now that Meg’s aboard, HR can’t be far behind! =)

    I agree – start with the people then fix the process – but please don’t mess with my manager, ‘cause he’s cool and, well frankly, I just don’t have the energy to train anyone new right now!

    Thanks for your comment. You totally deserve that A+!

  3. Amy Wilson said

    The badges give me an idea, Ken. Maybe instead of growing up, we should regress a little? Let’s go back to stickers!
    Stickers not grades!
    Stickers not grades!
    Stickers not grades!

  4. […] just for yourself, like a spa treatment.  See  if it makes you feel differently – not about the process of self evaluation – but about where you are going, and where you want to […]

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