Performance differentiation has been a staple of our lives since our childhood days of picking teams for a game of softball at the local sandlot. All the kids knew who the better hitters and base runners were, and they were the ones who were scooped up first by the team captains.
These practices have naturally segued into the workplace, where there’s a push for smart companies to identify their top employees in an effort to retain and engage them. But managers are shying away from identifying and separating their key players from those whose play is not up to par. While it’s their responsibility to call a spade a spade, there are still forces in every organization that steer these managers towards rating different performances the same.
At first blush, it seems preposterous that managers will refuse to properly differentiate employee performance simply to avoid raising red flags in the workplace. So, why do managers take the low road when it comes to performance differentiation? Here are four possible reasons:
1. Failure of nerve.
No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. It takes a lot of courage to provide accurate ratings and honest feedback to employees, especially if the end result is unfavourable and runs the risk of reflecting badly on you and your own management of a given employee. And what happens if your poor rating of an employee isn’t supported by your own supervisor or HR department? You’re left holding the bag with no recourse to justify your evaluation. Therefore, it makes sense that some managers won’t differentiate between good and bad performers – they will only rate them all “satisfactory” to preserve the status quo and not rock the boat.
2. Fear of being challenged.
Some employees won’t take a poor rating lying down, even if the rating is warranted, so managers can expect to be challenged. As a result, managers must be able to back up their performance differentiation processes with proper evidence and documentation supporting their decisions. Some managers, however, fail to keep files on all their employees, and this makes it difficult for them to justify poor ratings to employees who deserve them. Instead, they’ll give all their employees “good” or “satisfactory” ratings to stay under the radar.
3. Fear of playing favourites.
A positive employee rating can also send shockwaves through a workplace, especially if other employees and your peers perceive the rating to be unwarranted. As manager, it’s your prerogative to differentiate performance as you see fit, but a good rating leaves you open to accusations of favouritism and unfairness – something most managers know they can avoid by rating all their employees the same.
4. Inability to properly reward superior performances.
The possibility also exists that there’s no appropriate way for managers to reward superior performance in the workplace, thereby eliminating any incentive for managers to differentiate performances at all. Employees will expect to be compensated for a high rating, but the fact remains that most tangible rewards can already be had for a “satisfactory” performance. As a result, managers will defer to the middle because there’s no meaningful way to reward a good and a mediocre performance differently.
Still, this is something all managers need to deal with, especially from the point of view of employee engagement. Good employees want to know where they stand in relation to their peers, and must have faith that their managers will call out those who aren’t performing up to par. If they don’t trust this will happen, they will disengage and lack the appropriate motivation to try their best at work. These top performers will leave your firm because they’re not being rewarded for what they’re putting out.
Copyright Mattanie Press 2006