In my working career, I was never part of an organization that utilized performance reviews to evaluate personnel but have many friends and familiars who annually get subjected to this practice. Although I have no business background, it’s plain that a lot of science and research has gone into efforts to develop a fair, unbiased, and accurate rating.
Interestingly, however, for all the brainpower and resources that must have been devoted to developing the tools, there is no agreement, nor, it appears, any clear consensus, about which ones work best. The most common rating system might be the familiar five-point scale that evaluates whether the employee’s performance on the job fails to meet expectations, whether it needs improvement, whether it is satisfactory, whether it exceeds expectations, and –rarely—whether it is consistently outstanding. I suspect that in most cases, an employee’s overall rating is a mix of positive and negative traits. Organizations could just as easily use a three-point scale, a four-point scale, or a ten-point scale to make their assessments. In the end, the goal is always the same: to accurately assess one’s job performance.
These rating systems can be described. There is the Likert scale, which measures one’s response to a specific statement, e.g., I Agree, Strongly Agree (or Disagree), etc.; a semantic scale, like a Likert scale except unnamed options get sandwiched between two extremes; ordinal ratings, and binary systems that ask respondents to answer, yes or no.
These systems and scales are adaptable and can be customized to fit the organization’s needs. Regardless of the system or scale the organization uses, for the employee the central question remains, “What does my future look like?”
I don’t work much anymore, but I can tell you that trying to see the future is a question I never will cease asking. Thankfully, however, I am spared the stress and indignity of undergoing an annual year-end performance review.
Of course, no one is qualified to critically evaluate another’s conduct, successes, or failures in life, so why would you ever presume to make accurate judgments about his worth? You could ask me how much weight I’ve gained or lost during the past year (and keep in mind, the pants don’t lie!), or how much money my retirement account gained or lost this year. Surely, these are objective measures, but they also are meaningless. Subjective judgments they might be, but I give far more weight to my “outstanding” friendships, my loving relationship with Robyn, and the excellent companionship of Lola the pup.
If pressed, I’d utilize a modified 5-point scale to make this kind of personal assessment because the usual labels seem to me insufficient. For example, instead of the standard “unsatisfactory,” I would use an incredulous “Are you kidding me?” to underscore my lows. Who wants to hear “needs improvement,” when I could as easily use a stern and direct admonition to just, “try harder!” An enthusiastic “Well, alright,” conveys the same basic information as the bland “satisfactory” rating but is life-affirming and positive. “Exceeds expectations,” is perfectly acceptable, I suppose, but stiff. “Not too shabby, not too shabby at all,” works just as well for me. Finally, if “outstanding” is to remain the highest of accolades, then how about supplementing it with an occasional and hearty, “Atta boy!”
One of the reasons that performance reviews might do more harm than good is because they are not truly objective. Being people, we let in biases that are impossible to eliminate. See More Harm Than Good: The Truth About Performance Reviews, by Robert Sutton and Ben Wigert (May 6, 2019), found at https://www.gallup.com/workplace/249332/harm-good-truth-performance-reviews.aspx.
And the simple truth is I don’t control my future. All anyone can do is to live their best life. I’ll have to leave it to others to draw its meaning.