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Article

7 min read

10 Best Practices for Productive Performance Calibration Meetings

HR & workforce management

Author

Lorelei Trisca

Published

June 10, 2024

Last Update

July 03, 2024

Table of Contents

1. Establish clear performance criteria and a rating system for employee reviews

2. (Optional) Establish a performance distribution model

3. Assign a diverse and size-appropriate calibration committee

4. Train all reviewers on their role (especially for first-time participants)

5. Establish a clear timeline and agenda for the performance calibration process

6. Ensure all participants prepare before the calibration session

7. (Optional) Appoint a neutral facilitator to manage potential disagreements

8. Frame the meeting with clear objectives and foster open, honest discussions

9. Discuss outliers, justify ratings, and focus on aligning performance standards

10. Finalize ratings and document all decisions

Simplify performance calibrations with Deel Engage

A performance calibration meeting is a structured session to evaluate and align workers' performance ratings or assessments. Effective performance calibration meetings ensure consistency and fairness in employee evaluations. Misalignment among leaders can result in inconsistent standards, unfair assessments, and a lack of trust within the team.

Follow these guidelines to enable people leaders to host fair, accurate, and consistent performance reviews, empowering all employees in your organization and inspiring growth.

1. Establish clear performance criteria and a rating system for employee reviews

Before implementing a calibration process, revisit and refine your performance management system to ensure clarity and objectivity within your performance criteria. Clear performance criteria are essential to guide calibration discussions and align understandings of successful performance. Here’s a closer look at the process:

Assess and standardize the rating system

Evaluate the performance rating system used within your team or organization: 

  • For smaller organizations: Apply a uniform system across the board to maintain simplicity and consistency
  • For larger organizations: Ensure all individuals at similar levels are rated on the same scale, regardless of their department or team—this creates comparable data and reduces bias

performance-downward-feedback.png

For example, rate all team leaders on the same scale, regardless of their teams or departments, to have comparable data during calibration sessions.

You may choose a 3-point scale such as:

  • 1 = Doesn't meet expectations
  • 2 = Meets expectations 
  • 3 = Exceeds expectations

However, shorter scales lack nuance, so selecting a 5-point scale or up to 7 points will ensure additional breadth.

5-Point scale 7-Point scale (for additional nuance)
1. Needs improvement
2. Partially meets expectations
3. Meets expectations
4. Exceeds expectations
5. Far exceeds expectations
1. Unsatisfactory
2. Needs improvement
3. Meets some expectations
4. Meets expectations
5. Exceeds some expectations
6. Exceeds expectations
7. Outstanding

Define precise wording for each rating

Provide precise wording for each numeric value, whichever scale you choose. Avoid vague language like "average," "agree," or "good," which are all open to interpretation. Additionally, avoid using emotional words that may result in subjective interpretations.

Tip: Consider using the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) method for detailed instructions and examples. BARS combines qualitative and quantitative data to create clear, concise standards for evaluating performance. Each rating on the scale is anchored by specific behaviors exemplifying that level of performance.

Here is what a BARS for communication skills would look like:

  • Level 1: Fails to communicate effectively and often needs to be clearer and more organized. For example, during meetings, information is frequently miscommunicated, leading to confusion

  • Level 2: Communicates clearly but inconsistently and sometimes, information lacks detail. For example, providing clear instructions during project briefings but failing to follow up with necessary details

  • Level 3: Communicates clearly and effectively in most situations and information is generally well-organized and accurate. For example, providing clear and concise updates during team meetings

  • Level 4: Consistently communicates effectively and efficiently and information is always clear, detailed, and well-organized. For example, presenting complex information in an understandable manner during presentations and meetings

  • Level 5: Excels in communication and consistently provides exceptionally clear, detailed, and organized information. For example, being frequently sought out by peers for advice on effective communication strategies

Regardless of your rating system, offer comprehensive guidelines to help reviewers choose the appropriate rating when evaluating workers. Your documentation should include specific criteria and examples for each rating level.

2. (Optional) Establish a performance distribution model

A performance distribution model, also known as a forced ranking or forced distribution model, is a method used in performance management to categorize employee performance into predefined groups or percentiles.

Establishing a performance distribution model can benefit some organizations, particularly larger ones, by ensuring a balanced and consistent distribution of performance ratings. 

However, performance distributions may not be necessary or suitable for every organization, especially smaller ones with fewer employees or a less complex hierarchy. This is why this step is optional. Include it if it is applicable to your organization's specific context and needs.

Some performance distribution models include:

  • Percentile ranking: Rank employees based on their performance relative to others in the organization—for example, the top 10% are high performers, the middle 70% are average performers, and the bottom 20% are low performers
  • Absolute performance: Evaluate each employee's performance independently based on a specific, predefined level of excellence—for example, customer service employees answering 100% of calls within 30 seconds might receive the top performance score of 5
  • Three-tiered ranking: Divide employees into three distinct categories such as "Top performers," "Solid contributors," and "Developing/Underperforming." Based on organizational requirements, determine the percentage of employees assigned to each category
  • Bell curve (forced distribution): Distribute ratings along a bell-shaped curve with a predetermined percentage of employees assigned to each rating category—the majority will fall in the middle range, representing average performance, with fewer employees in high and low-performance categories

3. Assign a diverse and size-appropriate calibration committee

Define who will participate in the calibration sessions. Typically, this role is best suited for senior leaders involved in performance reviews, executive leaders of the business unit, and people team leads.

Follow these guidelines for determining calibration participants based on your company size:

1. Growing companies (1-50 people)

HR should host one-on-one meetings with each manager who completes performance evaluations.

  • Reason: In smaller organizations, this approach ensures detailed and personalized discussions, allowing for thorough calibration without overwhelming the process
  • Example: In a startup with 30 employees, the HR manager meets individually with each team leader to review and align performance ratings

2. Medium-sized companies (50-150 people)

Select calibration team leaders to review and compare performance ratings.

  • Reason: One-on-one meetings with every manager can be too time-consuming at this size, instead, calibration teams can efficiently handle the process while ensuring diverse perspectives
  • Example: In a company with 100 employees, HR forms a calibration team, comprising the team leaders from all departments, to collectively discuss and align performance evaluations (if there are more than 12 department leaders, create an additional calibration team) 

3. Companies with 150+ workers

Establish a calibration committee from sample departments, with active involvement from the HR team.

  • Reason: A committee approach is necessary to manage the larger scale while maintaining fairness and consistency
  • Example: In a large organization with 500 employees, HR assembles a calibration committee with representatives from various departments (e.g., sales, marketing, engineering), and an HR professional leads the process to ensure objective and balanced evaluations

Tip: Ensure your calibration participants come from various departments and backgrounds to provide a well-rounded view of performance.

4. Train all reviewers on their role (especially for first-time participants)

Performance calibrations are a collaborative effort, and everyone should understand their role, so you must ensure participants understand the objectives and process of performance calibration.

Educate your reviewers on the review process, scoring system, and how to approach calibration sessions. Additionally, train your reviewers on unconscious bias. 

Sarah Harris, Global Lead of Diversity and Engagement at Grünenthal Group, explains how easily unconscious bias can creep into the review process:

Proximity bias: You rate those colleagues with whom you spend more time higher. In a hybrid working world, this is more prominent than ever before. You are likely to rate higher colleagues in-office versus remote. 

Recency bias: You rate recent achievements more highly than those at the beginning of the year. 

Similarity bias: You are more favorable towards those like you. For example, you could be more favorable toward workers with similar interests and skills or who have attended the same university. 

Confirmation bias: You seek information to confirm your pre-existing beliefs. 

Leniency bias: You overlook underperformance.

If you use a performance distribution method, ensure you also train your reviewers on the model's specifics.

5. Establish a clear timeline and agenda for the performance calibration process

Set up the calibration meetings in advance, considering the timeline of your performance review cycle and organizational requirements. Share a timeline with key dates for the calibration process, ensuring it occurs before managers conduct individual performance reviews or make compensation and promotion decisions.

Your timeline should include:

  • Pre-meeting preparation
  • Training new calibrators 
  • The actual performance calibration meeting
  • Follow-up activities like recording and sharing the results

Prioritize performance meetings in your calendar to keep your review cycles on track. Postponing these sessions can lead to delayed employee feedback, negatively impact employee growth plans, and ultimately prevent your business from progressing to meet company objectives. 

Share a calibration agenda outlining expectations and requesting managers come prepared with their preliminary performance ratings to facilitate meaningful discussions during the meeting.

6. Ensure all participants prepare before the calibration session

Ask all supervisors and managers to complete performance reviews based on employee goals, accomplishments, and feedback. Managers must complete this step before the meeting—the calibration session is a chance to tweak performance appraisal scores rather than reviewing employees from scratch.

If you have previously determined a set of rating standards, distribute these before the performance evaluations to support managers with their scoring.

Before the meeting, send each attendee a checklist of tasks so everyone comes prepared. Use the below suggestions to create your own: 

  • Familiarize yourself with the rating standards
  • Complete individual employee performance appraisals for your direct reports
  • Self-audit your ratings and feedback
  • Consider whom you wish to nominate for promotions or compensation increases
  • Prepare questions and feedback to discuss at the meeting

7. (Optional) Appoint a neutral facilitator to manage potential disagreements

Consider using a neutral facilitator to manage discussions and mediate conflicts. A neutral facilitator can guide discussions impartially, ensuring fair and balanced evaluations. Additionally, they can ensure everyone’s voice is heard, fostering an inclusive environment receptive to diverse perspectives.

Facilitators skilled in conflict resolution techniques will also help mediate disagreements and maintain a constructive dialogue.

Tip: If you bring in external facilitators, ensure they thoroughly understand the performance criteria and rating system to guide discussions effectively. If you’re using an internal facilitator, such as an HR specialist, they are already familiar with your processes.

8. Frame the meeting with clear objectives and foster open, honest discussions

Begin the meeting by clarifying the overall goals and objectives of calibrating. Ensure everyone understands what you aim to achieve by the end of the meeting. 

Establish ground rules to create a respectful and productive environment. Remind participants of potential biases and the importance of basing their arguments on objective performance data rather than personal opinions.

Here are some guidelines for respectful communication and constructive feedback you can share to set ground rules for the calibration session:

  • Everyone should have the opportunity to speak without being interrupted
  • Criticisms should be about specific behaviors and not personal attacks
  • All participants will have a chance to voice their perspectives
  • Differing opinions are natural and can lead to better outcomes, the key is listening to each other’s arguments
  • Participants can ask clarifying questions to understand each perspective fully
  • Concrete data and specific examples will minimize subjectivity

9. Discuss outliers, justify ratings, and focus on aligning performance standards

Use the meeting time to compare individual employee ratings across teams or departments. Identify discrepancies, potential biases, or rating inconsistencies. Ensure all managers align on performance standards and criteria.

Encourage managers to share the performance factors they considered and justify the ratings they have given. For example, managers should be ready to provide context about exceptional performance for top-scoring employees. Examples of justification might include:

  • Achievements exceeding targets
  • Innovations or initiatives led by the employee
  • Feedback from clients or peers

Similarly, managers must justify why they've awarded low scores to a performer and outline the support they've provided to help these employees score higher. Examples of justification might include:

  • Specific performance issues or missed targets
  • Conflicts with team members
  • Negative feedback from customers or other relevant stakeholders

Discuss any observed rating inflation (overly high scores) or deflation (overly low scores). Explore potential rating biases, such as:

  • Leniency bias: Being too lenient and giving higher ratings than warranted
  • Harshness bias: Being overly critical and giving lower ratings than warranted
  • Central tendency bias: Avoiding high and low ratings and clustering scores in the middle

Although many forms of bias in the workplace are unconscious, you don't have to be an expert in bias to measure subjectivity against objectivity. If an evaluator makes a point about an individual's performance that is not collectively actionable, specific, and measurable, it's probably coming from their bias and, thus, shouldn't be used either for or against someone.

Brooks Scott,

Executive Coach and CEO, Merging Path

By discussing outliers, justifying ratings, and focusing on aligning performance standards, you ensure the calibration process is fair, transparent, and effective. 

10. Finalize ratings and document all decisions

If your calibration discussions identify inconsistencies or potential biases, make the necessary adjustments after reaching a group consensus. Document all changes, including the reasons behind any rating adjustments.

performance-calibrate.png

Tip: Appraisal calibration provides valuable insights into how well your performance management system is working. Learn from these sessions and improve the process for future cycles. 

For example, if a specific manager has consistently offered lower scores to their team, they might need additional training on the performance rating system. 

Once you have finalized your ratings, conclude the meeting. The managers can now share the scores with their team and make promotion or compensation decisions.

Free performance calibration templates

Download our calibration templates to kickstart your calibration sessions. You'll get two resources: a meeting guide (with a checklist) and a spreadsheet to enter data and create a bell curve and statistics per department.

Simplify performance calibrations with Deel Engage

Deel offers performance review software with in-built calibration functionality to take the legwork out of the process. With Deel Engage, you can:

  • Automate employee evaluations and the gathering of performance data (e.g., goal tracking, 360-performance reviews, skill assessments)
  • Track and compare ratings with performance analytics
  • Assign calibration tasks to relevant stakeholders
  • Once calibration is complete, share the new results with workers—they will only see calibrated scores and feedback

Moreover, the learning and career development modules will help you identify skills gaps and provide targeted training and development programs.

Learn more about the Deel Engage and how to use it to create high-performing teams.

Investing in our employees and their development is critical for us. We use Deel Engage’s smart tech to give employees a transparent outlook on their career progression, run bi-yearly feedback reviews, and train people globally.

Barbara Imm,

Director of People and Culture, roadsurfer

FAQs

A performance calibration meeting is a structured session to evaluate and align your employees' performance ratings or assessments.

Managers and evaluators of respective teams or departments gather to review and discuss individual employee performance scores and determine how they compare. The purpose is to reach a consensus and establish a standardized understanding of organizational performance levels.

In these meetings, participants might discuss factors like:

  • Goal achievement
  • Competencies
  • Skills
  • Behaviors
  • Overall performance

The primary purpose of calibration meetings is to ensure fairness, consistency, and accuracy in the performance evaluation process. Doing so will minimize biases, address discrepancies, and promote a more consistent and objective approach to performance assessment.

Performance review calibration meetings should happen every performance review cycle to ensure fairness and consistency across the board. They should be part of your organization's broader performance management strategy, which includes setting goals, assessing progress, and providing feedback.

Performance review calibration usually occurs at the end of the assessment period but before reviewees receive their appraisal scores or participate in performance conversations. The meeting is when all managers can gather to review their respective performance appraisals and reach a joint agreement.

Performance review calibration standardizes the entire process to make appraisals fair for every employee at your company. Moreover, calibration reduces subjectivity by ensuring that all appraisals use the same standards of performance.

Here are six crucial reasons why these sessions are necessary in any performance review cycle. 

  1. Improve employee engagement: Calibration meetings foster a sense of fairness and trust in the performance management system, ultimately boosting employee engagement
  2. Encourage supervisors to fully consider their performance appraisal ratings: Calibration prompts reviewers to contemplate their ratings, leading to more meaningful feedback
  3. Inspire discussion amongst supervisors: Reviewers are not alone, but part of a team, and calibration sessions provide a forum for open dialogue and to consider different management styles
  4. Apply similar standards across all employees: Objectively comparing appraisals ensures you hold all employees to the same performance standards
  5. Identify high and low performers for strategic talent management: A standardized approach makes it easier to pinpoint potential leadership candidates or create action plans to support those needing performance improvements
  6. Weed out bias: Performance calibration meetings offer a powerful opportunity to review and refine the performance review process, ensuring all employees are judged fairly and guarding against unfairness, whether intentional or not

Standards used for calibration in performance evaluations typically include:

  • Defined performance indicators and metrics: Objective measures such as sales targets, project completion rates, and customer satisfaction scores
  • Behavioral indicators: Qualitative criteria include teamwork, leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills
  • Uniform rating scales: Consistent rating scales (e.g., 1-5, 1-10) used across the organization with clearly defined levels
  • Clearly defined levels: Clear definitions for each level on the scale to reduce subjectivity and ensure everyone understands what each rating represents
  • Internal benchmarks: Comparisons against top performers within the organization
  • External benchmarks: Industry standards or data from similar organizations used to calibrate performance expectations

Additional calibration guidelines might include:

  • Company policies: Internal policies and guidelines can provide a framework for performance evaluations
  • Legal and compliance standards: Adherence to employment laws and regulations to ensure fair and non-discriminatory evaluations

Alice and Jacob work in similar roles and produce outstanding results for the team.

Alice receives her appraisal scores from a strict manager who is hard to please and scores an overall rating of 6 out of 10.

Jacob receives his 8 out of 10 overall rating from a more generous manager who believes positive scores motivate team members.

At face value, Jacob looks like the more vital team member. He's more likely to be considered for promotions and receive a bump in compensation, which is unfair to Alice.

Performance calibration meetings iron out these inconsistencies and ensure Alice receives a fair review and remains motivated to do well for the organization.

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