The Manager Bail-Out: Initiating Performance Management Conversations

Rating scales are always popular topics among everyone—management teams, first-level managers and employees—because everyone has a set of experiences based on their exposure to performance management.

Today, I’m going to argue the side of having fewer, rather than more, points on your rating scale system when it comes to how you rate an employee’s performance.

To most of your managers, giving feedback on improvement to an employee who’s meeting expectations feels like confrontation.  After all, they’re getting good work done. Not great, but good. I really don’t want to blow them up by talking about a bunch of stuff they could do to be great, rather than good. I need them. 

Which begs the question—are you allowing your employees to think they’re great, rather than telling them they’re good/average with the potential to be great?

Probably.

One of the places where this manifests itself most frequently is the rating scale—via a little misdirection exercise I like to call the “manager bail-out.”

Here’s how the manager bail out works:

  1. Manager has an employee who is doing average work—meeting expectations.
  2. Manager really doesn’t want the hassle of pushing for more performance.
  3. Company in question has established a five-point rating scale, with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst.  
  4. Manager is asked to rate the employee on 10-20 things as part of the performance process.
  5. In rating the 20 items, the manager gives fourteen 3s three 4s and three 5s.
  6. Add it all together and calculate it, and the overall rating is a 3.45.
  7. The employee interprets the scale as a 3 meaning “meets” and a 4 as “sometimes exceeds” or “above average.”
  8. The employee views their overall score as better than average based on it being between 3 and 4 overall.
  9. The employee’s happy enough with the rating they don’t ask a lot of questions—I’m better than average!
  10. The manager, via their rating scheme, escapes without having to provide feedback of any type.

It’s beautiful when you step back and take a look at it from 30,000 feet.  And it happens every day in companies across the globe.

Is the manager bail-out happening at your company? More than likely.  The question is, what are you going to do about it?  How can you force performance conversations to be meaningful?

That’s what this blog is about—among other things.