Article main image
Jun 16, 2017

Making critical decisions when it comes to managing talent has always been difficult: How should we invest in our people? Who are our most valuable employees? How do we make the best use of limited resources?

Yet as the complexities of the workforce have increased, it’s become tougher than ever to accurately and objectively assess the contributions of employees and the real impact employees have on an organization.

Indeed, today’s workplace reflects more unique organizational structures, larger networks of teams, and a broader mix of formal and informal work relationships. The way people work has been transformed by new tools and technology. More employees work remotely. Connections to people, information, and communications cross new boundaries.

The difficulty in assessing performance

For these reasons and more, it’s become increasingly difficult to understand employee performance. Managers see what they can see, but too often don’t have full visibility into how an employee works with others to impact the organization.

This explains why more and more organizations are turning to calibration — and using it more frequently. There’s no doubt that part of the performance management revolution taking place is in the way companies evaluate employees to identify high performers. This involves replacing individual manager ratings with group-based calibration sessions, where managers and organizational leaders come together to discuss and evaluate employees.

What is calibration?

Calibration is the process of bringing multiple organizational stakeholders together to discuss the contributions, performance, and potential of other employees. It does not imply the use of forced ranking or other forms of forced distribution – in fact such methods can undermine the effectiveness of calibration methods. What it does require is active dialogue among people about what defines effective performance and which employees best demonstrate behaviors and accomplishments the organization values.

The benefit of group-based talent reviews is that more individuals are pulled into the employee performance evaluation process and can provide meaningful input and feedback. No longer then is an employee at the mercy of a single manager’s perspective. Group-based calibration helps ensure that managers rely less on gut feelings when it comes to assessing how employees perform, and that assessments aren’t clouded by unconscious bias. With multiple raters, the likelihood that an employee’s contributions will be fully and fairly considered, and that individual managers remain focused on evaluation criteria that’s relevant, increases exponentially.

Trend toward more frequent calibration

In addition to more organizations relying on calibration, we’re seeing the move to more frequent calibration. Organizations that recognize all employees do not perform at the same level, in many cases, are getting more focused on how to actively manage that in a more fluid manner. What they are doing specifically is performing calibration sessions more frequently.

Ongoing performance discussions that support the evaluation and benchmarking of employees on a continuous basis not only drive better alignment but are critical to guiding better, smarter high-stakes decision making. Managers gain the ability to identify high and low performers and influence decisions about career advancement, succession, resource planning, job assignments, promotions, rewards, terminations, etc. at the moment those decisions are critical to make.

Organizations know they need to deal with the fact that some employees are more valuable than others, and therefore, need to be managed differently i.e., coached, developed, evaluated, rewarded, etc. The challenge they face is developing a consistent definition of performance across managers and employees and then applying it to accurately evaluate individuals at every level. Add to that the need to utilize those evaluations to guide other critical talent management decisions, such as those related to compensation, staffing, and development.

Calibration and technology

Fortunately, this is where we see technology playing a major role. New tools and technology that support the use of calibration can supplement and bolster people’s decision-making skills and make managing today’s workforce significantly easier. These tools  deliver significant value for helping managers and organizational leaders engage in more thoughtful discussion and more accurate employee assessments.

With the help of technology, calibration sessions don’t have to be time consuming and hindered by employee information that’s out of date. Data can be assembled for talent reviews in a matter of minutes. Drag and drop technology enables changes in calibration sessions to happen in real-time. In addition, data can flow seamlessly between talent management processes so that other types of decisions can effectively and easily be made.

Calibration tools makes it easy for managers and HR leaders to review and compare the performance and potential of employees – related to a team, department, location, job role, etc. – in order to gain consensus on employee potential. A performance vs. potential matrix, for example, can provide a visual comparison across two axes. Ratings can easily be viewed, compared, and adjusted based on discussion.

Getting rid of unconscious bias

Technology can also help organizations eliminate bias to increase workforce equity. We all know that things like what people look like and where they are from unconsciously influence our decisions. Even something as simple as whether or not you show pictures when running calibration sessions influences decisions about how well an employee performs.

The reality is that with the right tools organizations can eliminate unconscious bias in critical talent management decisions. Within the SAP SuccessFactors Calibration tool, for example, there are various options to turn off photos. By taking away employee photos and replacing them with a generic icon, users can instantly see where certain gender biases may be impacting their judgment of employee performance.

Differentiating performance with calibration

Certainly, calibration can be a powerful tool for effectively differentiating employees and improving talent management overall. When done well, calibration helps ensure that high performing employees who contribute relatively more to the success of an organization receive greater levels of investment in the form of pay and career growth opportunities, than low performing employees. The fact that more organizations are using calibration, and using it more frequently, speaks to the benefits and value it can deliver in improving the quality of decisions and creating more fair, productive, and engaging work environments.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!