It's that time of year. Throughout the next couple of months, managers all over the globe will be sitting down to review employee performance. When executed correctly, an effective performance management process aligns your workforce, builds competencies critical to business success, enhances employee development, and drives results.

As we all know, the review process can be complicated and time consuming. In addition to objectively justifying ratings, managers also must ensure that employees are rated fairly and consistently across the entire organization. For this to happen, managers must be on the same page regarding expectations and rating scales. If not, it's easy to review in a vacuum and inaccurately allocate rewards, promotions, and development resources. 

To solve the issue, many organizations turn to performance calibration sessions. Calibration sessions provide managers an opportunity to discuss their ratings and rationale with other managers to ensure they're grading each employee reasonably. The meeting is primarily a check-and-balances system. 

Other benefits include: 

  • Surfacing and reducing potential biases. (All managers think they have the best people.) By comparing performances, managers can quickly tell if their employees are out-performing their peers, or just simply meeting the expectations of the role. 
  • Prepare leaders to provide useful and meaningful feedback to employees. No one likes receiving vague and generalized feedback. After calibration sessions, managers have tangible and objective examples of what high-performance looks like. 
  • Fairly and accurately grant rewards, promotions, and development opportunities. Every organization has easy and hard raters. To ensure that resources and rewards are equitably distributed, calibration sessions force leaders to compare and contrast their employee's against others to provide transparency and reduce any unconscious bias. 
  • Differentiate, reward and retain high-performers. It's important from a management perspective to identify and acknowledge top performers across the organization through the performance management process and reward them accordingly. If not, they'll leave for greener pastures. 
  • Develop stronger succession plans. Through calibration sessions, it's easier for managers to objectively identify employees who are ready for the next step. Even if you can't promote them right away, you can start the necessary development process to ensure they're ready when the time comes. Don't wait. I've seen too many organizations lose employees because they failed to communicate their intentions. 

The calibration sessions themselves aren't too difficult to set up. First, you want to make sure that you've given each one of your direct reports a preliminary rating. In preparation for the calibration session, jot down a few strengths and development opportunities (from the employee's performance review) with examples that will help the other managers understand and validate the level of their contributions. Also, be ready to provide a recommendation on each one of your direct report's talent readiness (time frame for proposed advancement.) This will help you plan and prioritize development opportunities.

Next, work with your HR team to set up a meeting with your peers. You want to ensure that you're comparing employees with similar responsibilities and roles. For example, a sales associate with another sales associate.

Once you're together, each manager should spend a few minutes discussing their employee's preliminary ratings, strengths, and development opportunities. Discuss all employees to ensure a consistent rating use. Make sure that a "4" is universally understood and applied. It's helpful to have an HR representative present as an unbiased third party and for consistent rating application. 

Lastly, as you discuss each employee, recalibrate your ratings accordingly. The most important thing is to identify and differentiate the top-performances from the rest. 

An effective and fair performance management process is a hallmark of a high-performing culture. Use calibration sessions to identify and reward performance and to ensure everyone is rated consistently across the organization.