How to ensure consistency in employee performance appraisals

Evaluating employee performance is often a very subjective process, with every manager having their own standards and ways of rating and ranking performance. However, since so many other business and HR processes use performance evaluation data as input, it's important to ensure employee performance ratings are consistent and fair. So how do you ensure your employees are getting fair, consistent performance appraisals?


The way you evaluate competencies can have a big impact on the consistency of employee performance appraisals.

Your first decision is whether to have a standard set of competencies that you evaluate all employees against, a different set of competencies for every job or employee, or a combination of standard and job/department specific competencies. Having a standard set of core competencies to evaluate all employees against is one of the key ways you can introduce consistency in your employee reviews, as well as encourage corporate culture and values, which ultimately strengthen your organization.

Your second decision is how to evaluate employees' performance of the competencies you've chosen. You can use: no rating, a short rating, a long rating or a matrix rating.

  • With no rating, evaluators simply provide comments about the employee's performance of a competency.
  • With a short rating style, evaluators are asked to rate performance on a simple scale, using short behavior descriptions (e.g. met expectations, unsatisfactory) and provide additional comments if desired.
  • With a long rating style, evaluators rate performance using detailed descriptions of the different levels of demonstration and provide additional comments as needed. The style tends to bring better consistency to ratings, because evaluators have a better understanding of what each level of performance looks like.
  • A checklist/matrix rating style allows you to capture a number of different rating criteria and comments in a compact space by putting all the competencies in a table/matrix format. In addition to providing a rating on performance you can also capture information like the frequency of performance, the method of observation, the date of observation, etc.


There are many different work contexts where it can be challenging for a manager to provide performance feedback and accurate ratings for an employee, for example: shift work; project or team based work, especially if they are cross-functional; and new or fluid reporting structures. Gathering multiple perspectives on performance can help eliminate subjectivity and give a broader more consistent evaluation of performance.


Writing detailed comments on employee performance can be a challenge. Getting the words just right, and including a consistent level of detail and information takes time and skill. So give managers suggestions for wording that they can copy, adjust and edit.


To help ensure consistency in your performance appraisals, it can be helpful to include a second-level manager review or a manager peer group review in your process. This allows someone other than the manager to review performance ratings and ensure they're well calibrated. But it also allows another manager or group of managers to review the quality and consistency of comments and feedback, ensure development plans are appropriately assigned where needed, and ensure goals are appropriate and achievable. This form of secondary review can be a real learning opportunity for managers that improves their performance management skills.


To ensure consistency in performance appraisals, your HR team should also review a host of metrics from your performance appraisal process, including things like:

  • Completion rates
  • Ratings distributions
  • Development plan assignments
  • Goal alignment

Looking at your process metrics can help you identify inconsistencies so you can address them. But more importantly, it helps you ensure that employees and the organization are actually getting value from the process.


Perhaps most importantly, you need to provide ongoing training and communication to both managers and employees to level-set expectations about performance and ratings. Unless managers and employees have a solid and shared understanding of your performance rating scale and the performance expectations, you'll never achieve fairness and consistency in your employee performance appraisals.

For example, if you're using a five point rating scale, you should explain and regularly communicate that you consider 3 to be an appropriate rating for every employee who is demonstrating consistent, solid performance and meeting expectations and who occasionally goes above and beyond expectations. If you want a 4 rating to be reserved for more exceptional cases, where an employee exceeds expectations more than 50% of the time, you need to explicitly communicate that, and take steps to ensure ratings are being assigned appropriately.

We live and work in a culture where everyone is encouraged to "excel" and "average" performance might be viewed as a negative thing. It may be only natural for solidly performing employees to want a 4 rating, and they may put pressure on their managers to do so. Similarly, a manager may want themselves and their team to be perceived as better than average, so they might inflate ratings to showcase or even safeguard their group. And don't forget that more recently hired staff bring with them the rating definitions and expectations from their previous employers.


Ensuring your employee performance appraisals are consistent takes time and effort. But the impact of your efforts can be far reaching, including: improved participation rates, better employee satisfaction and engagement with the process, more effective compensation programs, better workforce management decisions, and most importantly, better employee performance.

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