Why I Hate and Love Personal Performance Ratings

Accountability Contribution Management


Key Point: Most of us want to improve in work and life, and I believe if you have a boss, friend, teammate, and/or other that cares enough about you to give meaningful and actionable feedback, then you’re one of the fortunate ones. There are lots of ways to coach. You can be direct and show a better way, ask self-reflective questions, give recognition, assign challenging work, etc. Most of us, regardless of our station in work/life will be striving for the ever-elusive goal of self-improvement. And my experience is that the most successful people are in relentless pursuit of personal leadership development. To a large extent, that seems to be their purpose in life. Do we need personal performance ratings to drive this quest?

Ratings are indeed helpful to compare experiences, items and I guess at times, people. When I go to sites like Trip Advisor or Rotten Tomatoes, I do pay attention to the stars. Usually the ratings come from lots of people and I do believe in the statement, “The Trend is Your Friend.” I also believe that leaders can and should be rated on their ability to accomplish three big things:  1. Achieve extraordinary results 2. Build relationships 3. Develop others. Why? Because there is so much research underlying these elements as distinguishing factors in driving leadership performance. To a large extent, you can measure each of these. Ideally a rating on each factor would be based on copious amounts of data from lots of folks as evidence and support. As an example, if many of your colleagues rate you strongly or poorly on relationship building, well the trend is or is not your friend. And so on. I think that is actionable insight.

However, I dislike ratings the way they are often used in annual performance reviews. Can you tell me one good thing can come out of your boss giving you a rating number (other than the highest rating) unless there is a very clear path to increase it? Frankly, in one-on-one relationships, my experience is that ratings are usually fuzzy, subjective, demotivating, and overall useless. On the other hand, ratings from a significant number of people on the three criteria listed above would be informative and directionally meaningful. The trend is your friend! (I’m not talking about the often clumsy so called 360 degree review either).

My philosophy with people who report to me is the following: You and I are getting better or we’re likely on a path out. I expect myself, and my leaders, to be better each year. Sometimes circumstances alter results. I understand that. But no one can stand pat on a number rating, whatever it is. That’s another reason giving a personal rating number can be bogus.  I frankly don’t care what it was last year. I’m interested in the present and a foundation for getting better. And as harsh as it may sound, if I need a different role or set of skills, I may have to replace a leader regardless of their past performance. You’re on my team getting better, and part of delivering what we need or you’re going to be off it (respectfully and fairly treated in the exit, of course).

Character Moves:

  1. Think about the merit and value of providing personal, numeric ratings to people on your team and organization. How have ratings impacted you? Others? What do they really mean? What are we really trying to accomplish with them? Who really benefits?

Ratings in the Triangle,

Lorne Rubis

One Millennial View: I think the main difficult and frustrating thing for Millennials entering the workplace is a sudden lack of constant rating. Throughout our academic careers, all we’ve known is a steady barrage of grades, and charted feedback. Now, in the office, sometimes we get NO feedback at all. All of a sudden, we’re sucker punched with a guessing game. That’s part of growing up and becoming professional… I don’t need an “atta-boy” for just doing my job, and don’t expect one, but when months and months go by without any feedback, where do I stand? On the flip side, micromanagement sucks the life out of work. How about this? I think a nice “here’s what’s great, and here’s what you can work on” every couple weeks would be stellar for all.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis