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Dear ReWorker,

Performance ratings are due soon, so I filled out the forms and rated my employees based on their performance throughout the year. I gave one employee an outstanding rating as I really think she has met those criteria.

I gave her the performance review and the rating, and she was thrilled. Now, my boss is coming back saying I need to adjust the review downward. Why are they asking me to do this, and what can I say to my employee?

Sincerely,

Blindsided

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Blindsided,

This is one of those situations that should have been avoided by you having your manager sign off on the appraisal before you gave it, so file that away for future reference. But, I'm going to assume this is the first time you've written performance appraisals at this company or that your boss is new.

The best thing to do, of course, is to ask your boss why. But I can give you some pretty good guesses.

1) Your Company Has a Forced Rating Distribution

Many companies require performance ratings to fit a distribution. It looks like this:

  • 5 percent outstanding
  • 40 percent above average
  • 40 percent average
  • 10 percent below average
  • 5 percent unacceptable

It makes for a nice curve, and it makes it easy to figure out budgets when raises and bonuses are tied to performance ratings. The problem with this is that people don't always fall directly into that curve. If you rated your employee as outstanding, it could be that she is really awesome, but that your manager was exceeding her "outstanding" budget and needed to knock someone down. She could have taken a look at all the people labeled "outstanding" and ranked them, and if your employee was at the bottom of that group, then she would need a different rating.

What to say to your employee: "Jane, I'm sorry, but I have to move you from an 'outstanding' to 'above average' rating. Only 5 percent of employees can be rated outstanding, and while you are awesome, you're not in the top 5 percent yet. We truly value you at the company and want you to continue to improve. Here are a few things you can do to get to the next level."

2) You Misunderstood What Makes an Outstanding Employee

What makes an outstanding employee? The answer is different at every company. You may say, "My direct report met or exceeded all her goals. She's kind and helpful and has high potential. That's outstanding." But your boss may consider that simply "above average" or maybe even "average." To be truly outstanding, your boss may think an employee needs to exceed at all her goals, take on new projects, and be eligible for a promotion.

That doesn't mean your employee isn't outstanding in your eyes—it just means that for this company, the bar is much higher.

What to say to your employee: "I'm new here, and I didn't realize what the requirements were before speaking with you. You met or exceeded all your goals, but the company requirement for an 'outstanding rating' is higher. In order to receive an outstanding rating, you'll need to do A, B, and C. I'm really sorry for this. It was 100 percent my fault."

3) Your Evaluation Was Just Wrong

Your employee may flat out not be outstanding. You gave her a 10 on customer satisfaction when she is an objective 8. Are you sure your grading matched up with the metrics given? Sometimes we like an employee and so we push up their appraisals when we shouldn't. Objectives should be measurable and it's possible that you measured things incorrectly.

What to say to your employee: "Jane, I screwed up. I didn't look closely at the grid I was supposed to use to rate you, and as a result, I did the evaluation incorrectly. I truly value you as an employee and I think you're awesome, but I originally gave you a 10 on customer satisfaction, when according to the grid, you're currently at an 8. Here's why and you can do A, B, and C to improve this rating."

In the future, make sure you match things to the company guidelines. Ask your manager for help when you're writing the review, and make sure your manager has signed off on the rating before you tell your employee. You may strongly disagree with your manager's opinion on how to rate your employees, but she's your boss.

File this away in a been-there-done-that file, and you won't ever make this mistake again.

Your ReWorker,

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady

Photo: Creative Commons