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? rbrenhYPrFfWFkbMHrZTJner@ChacbnPJbZOrFInotGNMoCanyon.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:

If only I were a florist?Don't Worry, Anticipate!
Dramatic changes in policy or procedure are often challenging, especially when they have some boneheaded components. But by accepting them, by anticipating what you can, and by applying Pareto's principle, you can usually find a safe path that suits you.
A time ManagerTime Management in a Hurry
Many of us own books on time management. Here are five tips on time management for those of us who don't have time to read the time management books we've already bought.
Two different chairsTake Any Seat: I
When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.
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.
Heiltskuk Icefield, British ColumbiaFinding the Third Way
When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenyyDVXyVEDHyANVJgner@ChacCUYtaerygSunHEYUoCanyon.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

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about 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.