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Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Tell your clueless boss this: ratings motivate best workers

Some bosses have “rater bias” and won’t ever give top ratings in reviews.

Some bosses have “rater bias” and won’t ever give top ratings in reviews.

QI'm in the process of preparing performance reviews for my staff, but I'm already anticipating a disagreement with my boss. Our review form includes five ratings, with the middle one being "meets expectations." My boss will never approve a higher rating than that for anyone, because he says he expects people to always do their best. • Some of my employees worked very hard this year and accomplished great things for the company. They deserve a better rating than "meets expectations." How can I make my manager understand that lower ratings are extremely discouraging to our best employees?

A: Your clueless boss provides a perfect example of "rater bias," a common phenomenon that contributes to unfairness in performance reviews. Research has shown that many managers have preconceived ideas about how rating scales should be used. "High raters" freely distribute top scores, while "low raters" refuse to use them at all, even for exceptional employees.

While high-rating bosses need to become more discerning, low raters need to recognize that this tightfisted attitude automatically de-motivates their most valuable employees. People who do truly outstanding work ought to be recognized with an outstanding rating.

Unfortunately, these entrenched beliefs are often quite resistant to change. However, you might find an ally in your human resources manager, because HR is typically responsible for reviewing ratings and encouraging managers to apply them consistently.

Another option is to ask your boss for guidelines that define when each rating level should be used. You might point out that the existence of an "outstanding" rating automatically implies the existence of someone who deserves it.

Make jobs separate, distinct

Q: Since "Brenda" joined our department, I have been doing about 80 percent of our shared work. We don't have individual job descriptions. We are just expected to work together and get everything done.

Brenda is frequently tardy, takes long lunches and spends a lot of time on personal business. She makes errors, but never bothers to correct them. I stay late to fix her mistakes and see that all the work is completed.

Even after I confronted Brenda, she made no effort to change her behavior. When I complained to my boss, he thanked me for my hard work, but did nothing about Brenda. How can I deal with this situation if my manager won't help?

A: The problem is lack of individual accountability. Without separate objectives, there's no way to determine where your job ends and Brenda's begins. To correct the imbalance, draft a proposal for a reasonable division of labor and present it to your boss. Explain that this will reduce duplication of effort and make operations more efficient.

You must also stop working overtime to compensate for your colleague's poor work ethic. As long as you continue to ensure that everything is done correctly, your manager will never recognize the true extent of Brenda's incompetence.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.

Tell your clueless boss this: ratings motivate best workers 12/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:44pm]
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