Performance ratings are dynamic… now how do we rate them?

Topic: Performance Appraisal, Performance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2010)
Article: Understanding performance ratings: Dynamic performance, attributions, and rating purpose.
Authors: Jochen Reb and Gary Greguras
Reviewed By: Allison Gabriel

We all know that performance ratings are critical for employees; they determine promotions, raises, future developmental opportunities, and so forth. What makes ratings difficult lies in the fact that employees’ performance is dynamic and can change quite radically. Think about your own performance: how you perform this week, or even this day, may not be the same as it was a month ago. This presents quite the dilemma for raters (aka, supervisors): how do you combine multiple, changing aspects of work performance to get an accurate rating?

Reb and Greguras sought to explore this concept in two separate studies looking at how overall performance (e.g., above average, average, or below average), performance trend (e.g., increasing performance, decreasing performance), and performance variability (e.g., consistent versus inconsistent performance) impact rater perceptions of employee ability, effort, and locus of control (whether internal or external causes are to blame for employee performance). To make matters even more detailed, the authors also wanted to see if different dynamic factors impacted feedback given for administrative (e.g., promotions) or developmental (e.g., training suggestions) feedback purposes. While this seems like quite a bit, the fact of the matter is that it represents what managers need to do regularly!

By having a sample of undergrads and a sample of managers fill out ratings of “employees,” results showed that dynamic factors of performance trend and performance consistency impacted perceptions of employee ability and effort. This means that two employees could have the same level of performance overall, but the one who is more consistent, or the one who is viewed as having more of an increasing trend of performance, would come out on top. Also, developmental feedback was more influenced by trend and variability, while administrative feedback was influenced more by mean performance.

The authors do acknowledge that the results seem grim; after all that, it seems like there is no way a supervisor can make a clean rating! But, the good news is that supervisors can direct their focus on certain aspects of dynamic employee performance depending upon what their goal is. Are you trying to find people who would be good for a new developmental program? Look at performance trend. Are you giving out promotions? Look at the overall performance mean… and keep your eye on the dynamic curve balls of employee performance.

Reb, J., & Greguras, G. (2010). Understanding performance ratings: Dynamic performance, attributions, and rating purpose. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 213-220.