Performance Ratings = More Than Just Performance

Topic: Performance Appraisal
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (MAY 2010)
ArticleThe impact of non-performance information on ratings of job performance: A
policy-capturing approach

Authors: J.R. Spence and L.M. Keeping
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Though they are intended to reflect employees’ performance on the job, performance appraisal ratings are well known to reflect things that are irrelevant to performance.  Even more troubling is the fact that the sources of irrelevant information that lead to inaccurate performance ratings are numerous.

Recently, Spence and Keeping (2010) identified three, often neglected, sources of performance rating inaccuracy:

1.Potential consequences of ratings (e.g., interpersonal conflicts, confrontations)

2. Norms of the organization (e.g., high/low ratings across the board, accurate ratings)

3. The advancement of self interests (e.g., rater’s own performance rating contingent upon those of subordinates)

Although the authors presented scenarios of a fictitious employee to university alumni in a non-work setting, their results confirm that all three sources of potential inaccuracy can contribute to performance ratings above and beyond performance itself. Specifically, Spence and Keeping’s results point to several tendencies of performance raters. First, raters are more likely to give higher performance ratings when the norms of the organization are to give uniformly high ratings. Secondly (and not surprisingly), raters are more likely to give higher performance ratings when their own performance ratings are contingent upon their subordinates’ performance.

Finally, contrary to the authors’ prediction, the possibility that an employee will confront the rater following a poor performance appraisal, leads to lower performance ratings.  Spence and Keeping
suggest that the possibility of confrontation may lead raters to “dislike the ‘ratee’”, leading to a lower performance rating.

These findings are particularly important for those organizations that have strong norms of providing high/low ratings across the board.  Such norms can ultimately lead to the detriment of the performance appraisal system.  Organizations should also consider if (and how) they reward supervisors for providing performance ratings to their subordinates, as self-interests also appears to be a source of rating inaccuracy.  This potential problem may be addressed with the use of multi-rater performance ratings (e.g., 360 degree feedback).

Spence, J.R., & Keeping, L.M. (2010). The impact of non-performance information on ratings of job performance: A policy-capturing approach. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 587-608.