When is the best time to communicate their performance rating to employees?

When is the best time to communicate their performance rating to employees

Today’s Reader Question centers on discussing the communication of the performance rating, or rather its timing.

In a company where calibration takes place after the manager and employee have sat together to discuss the employee’s performance in the past year, when is it best to communicate the performance rating to the employee : at the time the meeting is taking place, or after the calibration is done ?

First of all, to be clear to everyone, what calibration (also called moderation in some companies) means in that instance is the process whereby managers and employees meet to discuss the performance rating of the employee. Then all performance ratings done by the managers in a company are collected. They are compared to the guided or forced distribution curve applied in the company, and some of the employee’s initial performance ratings may be changed up or down in order to align to the curve.

There are different ways to handle calibration, but that is a topic for another post.

So. When should the employee learn about his/her performance rating ?

Disclosing the performance rating during the performance appraisal meeting

The appraisal meeting is the time when manager and employee sit together and formally review what went well and could have been better in the past year.

Of course, all managers in your organisation are good at “people stuff”. So they do sit regularly with their team members to provide them feedback during the course of the year. They give recognition on the spot, and ensure that corrective action is taken if needed. So the year-end meeting, in reality, is only a formality.

The employee and her manager analyse the latest developments, and the manager gives her over overall feedback based on the previous discussions and the progress or sustained performance achieved by the employee.

No-one gets a bad surprise, as assignments that might have slipped were tackled during the year. The manager provided the support and resources needed, the employee provided the effort and goodwill needed, and whatever was not achieved was already discussed in past feedback sessions.

It is logical at this point for the manager to communicate the rating.

The employee is able to perform a self-appraisal that is realistic based on all the discussions that took place previously.

The manager is in full knowledge of all facts to easily establish the final rating based on the degree of achievement of the objectives.

The culmination of one year of exchange is done by sharing the rating that the manager wants to give to the employee.

If the employee does not agree with the rating proposed by the manager, she has a chance to voice her arguments and influence the end result. This situation should not happen too often if the employee and manager met regularly – as I said before, there should be no surprises during the year-end performance discussion.

It concludes and formalises all previous meetings and brings closure to the year, leaving space for the first thoughts about objectives for the following year.

The risk is that the manager rating may be overruled during the calibration.

In that case, the manager will have a potentially difficult to have with the employee :

  • either the rating went up, which is good news for the employee but reduces the credibility of the manager’s judgement and may create more “negotiation”  from the employee at the time of appraisal next year, because the assumption will be that the manager is a tough rater compared to other managers in the rest of the organisation
  • or the rating went down, which puts the manager in an awkward position, having to explain why, when compared to others in the organisation, the employee was considered not as good a performer as what the manager initially assessed.

In either case, the concept of peer ranking potentially affects the outcome of the manager rating, which is set in pure absolute value (assess the rating without comparing results to those of other employees) or almost (rating set by looking at achievement of objectives as well as a limited form of comparison with the other employees from the team, not the whole company).

Disclosing the performance rating after the calibration

In that scenario, the employee and managers have discussed the overall yearly performance.

The manager has decided a rating but not communicated it. The rating has been collected along with those of all the other employees, and the calibration took place. The final rating may be the same or different as the initial rating from the manager.

There may be days or even weeks between the time of the appraisal meeting, and the time the manager and employee reconvene to discuss the final rating.

The obvious advantage of this approach is that the rating communicated to the employee is the final one, reducing the risk of disappointment or reduced credibility for the manager. In that sense, it is an easier process to follow.

In that case, there may also be reduced administration because the manager can enter the evaluation comments only after the final rating is known, thereby not having to tweak it if the final rating is different from the initial one.

However the risk of discrepancy still exists, because the main element of the conversation was already discussed and an overall assessment of the employee performance, though not formally expressed as per the company rating system (rating 1,2,3 or above, at or below expectations), was communicated extensively to the employee.

No-one is stupid and the employee has been able to assess whether his performance was above, at or below par. Therefore there may still be a need for the “let me explain what happened” discussion between the manager and the employee if the final rating is different from the one initially set up by the manager.

Most importantly, having two discussions does not feel natural. It means having to organise two meetings, and artificially picking up on the first conversation to finalise it.

The time-lapse between the two meetings can create confusion and false expectations (positive or negative). It means the process takes more time to come to close and to open the following year.

Like in most people-related processes, none of the two approaches is perfect.

Each has advantages and drawbacks.

Some companies try to mitigate both by performing the calibration session before there is any performance discussion between the manager and employee. This way, there is only one discussion, and it is for sure consistent with the final rating. However the drawback of that approach is that there is not really a chance for a real exchange on performance between the employee and the manager, especially in case of a disagreement.

Of course there shouldn’t be a high risk of such a potential disagreement if regular performance discussions took place during the year. So it all comes down to the maturity of managers and employees, and their willingness to discuss throughout the year. And as we all know, people in organisations are not perfect, and good managers can be quite a rare commodity…

So which approach does your organisation follow ? Do you do something different, or have tips for making the process as smooth as possible ? Feel free to share with the other readers !


Liked this post ? Why don’t you share it on LinkedIn or Facebook ? Simply click on the link below and help your friends and connections benefit from it to !

Related posts :

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Bashar J says

    Loved the article, my employer sticks to neither one, there isn’t calibration but the manager does peer ranking after performance rating, and obviously the employee doesn’t have a chance to further discuss the score since peer ranking discussion is not welcomed with the line manager (why him/her and not me) … the employee is left with only one option… which is sadly acceptance!

    • Sandrine says

      Yes Bashar, very good comments. I’m afraid that no matter when the discussion is supposed to take place, not many line managers like to have “the talk” about performance rating, the reasons for the rating, the sometimes unavoidable questins from the employee or comparisons they make of themselves with others etc… Hence why a vast part of the success of performance management coms from educating managers and providing them with the tools to master and feel comfortable for these crucial conversations.

Speak Your Mind