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Appraisal grading schemes

Q We are interested in finding out what other companies do with regards to grading staff in the appraisal process. Our company works on an A-D basis (with plus and minus shadings) as follows:

A: exceeds expectations by a large margin

B: exceeds expectations in most areas of the role

C: meets expectations in the role

D: does not reach expectations.

However, comments from our management team reveal that staff view a C grade as only one step away from the lowest grade, and managers are worried that a C may be demotivating.

Could you let me know how you grade your staff what concerns staff have with the schemes you operate and what the pluses and minuses are of the schemes you run?

A I think that the three grades of ‘exceeds expectations’, ‘meets expectations’, and ‘requires further development’ make the middle standard less demotivating. But my query is how you define in practical terms what is good, excellent or bad. ‘Requires further development’ is fairly clear, but I find that distinguishing the difference between an employee with good performance and one with excellent performance is more difficult. We have key competencies, but these are also fairly vague, and I would appreciate any ideas on how I might define performance.

A The only reason your managers are unsure is because you have given them four options to pick from rather than five.

Perhaps you might want to consider relabelling your grading system. Rather than have A, B, C and D, consider exceptional, above average, average and needs development. This would eliminate employees associating the appraisal with college/school grades.

A I have used many different grading (rating) methods over the years, but in the past few years I have reached the firm conclusion that the best approach is not to use them at all.

I have successfully introduced new performance management processes in two organisations where there was no overall rating given to performance. Whichever scheme you use is bound to have a category that will apply to most staff, and it will demotivate those people that are awarded it. There are other, and I believe better, ways of ensuring performance management is handled openly and effectively.

A In higher education, it has become the norm that students expect a 2:1 grade (out of a range including 1, 2.1, 2.2 , 3 and fail), irrespective of the standard they demonstrate. Unfortunately, in higher education, complicity in lowering standards to retain students and massage performance figures plays a large part in students’ elevated 2:1 expectations.

When student (or employee) expectations around grading shrink to so narrow a range of acceptable marks, it is a problem. Rather than extend the list of possible marks (it wasn’t in my power to do that anyway), I focused on creating a culture where students developed a fuller and more productive relationship with the existing range. Sadly, that effort was rather against the tide.

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