Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 2;   January 11, 2017: Meets Expectations

Meets Expectations

by

Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing. Why?
Drawing the line between one category and the next

In the top half of the figure, where is the line between red and blue? Drawing the line between one category and the next might seem simple enough. But when subjective judgment is involved, or when information is unevenly distributed, people make differing choices.

Perhaps the most widely used rating in performance management systems is the dreaded meets expectations. People who contribute in ways and at levels that are certainly beyond anyone's expectations find "meets expectations" demoralizing. Why? After all, they did meet expectations. Here are some possible explanations for strong feelings about the "meets" rating, for people whose jobs fall in the category called knowledge work.

Check your own expectations
You risk disappointment unless you have concrete indications that your supervisor's expectations are in alignment with your own expectations vis-à-vis your performance. Rare are the supervisors who specify precisely their expectations for their subordinates' performance.
For many, it's realistic to assume ambiguity about the distinction between "meets" and "exceeds" performance levels. Most supervisors are free to assess anyone's performance as either "meets" or "exceeds" without risk of contradicting any standard, stated or not. To the extent that supervisors are free in this way, the distinction between "meets" and "exceeds" is meaningless, and expectations that you will receive any particular rating are unjustified.
Accept the complexity of performance
Performance is such a complex entity that precisely defining objective specifications distinguishing "meets" from "exceeds" is probably impossible. For some jobs, even writing a complete job description is difficult.
Even though Performance is such a complex entity
that precisely defining objective
specifications distinguishing
"meets" from "exceeds" is
probably impossible
you might feel that your performance exceeds anyone's reasonable expectations, recognize that you probably know more about your performance than your supervisor does. This isn't a justification for anyone undervaluing your performance. Rather, it's a criticism of the simple-mindedness of most performance management systems. To believe that one can justify any rating, including "exceeds," by citing facts, is to subscribe to the idea that one can rate performance on such a simple scale. Don't fall for this trap.
Know whether your supervisor has quota constraints
Often, employers use a performance rating framework known as forced ranking or forced distribution in which they set quotas for the various levels of the performance rating system. For example, they might require supervisors to rate no more than one subordinate as "outstanding" and no more than 5% of their subordinates "exceeds." Except for employees with serious performance issues, the rest of their subordinates are then relegated to "meets."
Such a scheme is, of course, irrational. It rates people not according to their performance, but according to some target distribution of ratings, nearly independent of performance. Because the irrationality of the scheme conflicts so dramatically with the high standards of rationality required of knowledge workers, many find the hypocrisy intolerable.

The problem of designing a performance management system for knowledge work is much bigger than merely distinguishing "meets" from "exceeds." In many cases, the value of a knowledge worker's contributions might not be evident — even to experts — until years pass. Keep that in mind when someone tells you that your performance "meets expectations." Usually, they really don't know what to expect.

Be less concerned about an obviously unjust performance evaluation than about having accepted as legitimate a fundamentally irrational performance evaluation process. Go to top Top  Next issue: On Differences and Disagreements  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmDssehNdCbhAdpOGner@ChaclaZVcOxinsVkWUxWoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

US Medal of HonorExpress Your Appreciation and Trust
Some people in your organization have done really outstanding work. You want to recognize that work, but the budget is so small that anything you could do would be insulting. What can you do? Express your Appreciation and Trust.
Benjamin FranklinProblem-Solving Ambassadors
In dispersed teams, we often hold meetings to which we send delegations to work out issues of mutual interest. These working sessions are a mix of problem solving and negotiation. People who are masters of both are problem-solving ambassadors, and they're especially valuable to dispersed or global teams.
The giant sequoiaThe Good, the Bad, and the Complicated
In fiction and movies, the world is often simple. There's a protagonist, a goal, and a series of obstacles. The protagonists and goals are good, and the obstacles are bad. Real life is more complicated.
A lunar eclipseMaking Meaning
When we see or hear the goings-on around us, we interpret them to make meaning and significance. Some interpretations are thoughtful, but most are almost instantaneous. Since the instantaneous ones are sometimes goofy or dangerous, here's a look at how we make interpretations.
Illustrating the concept of local maximumFalse Summits: Part II
When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end. The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is in project work.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenFnjiSEIDhSDEzZaAner@ChacZGFmgWCNakCUymufoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.