Employee Evaluations: What’s the Right Rating System?

Performance reviews and evaluations are a sensitive topic for employers and employees, alike. Diligent, thoughtful managers, want to craft the most accurate and effective employee evaluations without triggering hostility or damaging relationships. How to word a performance evaluation is a major source of mystery for most everyone. It’s difficult to give “sample” language for use on an employee evaluation. The better approach is to start with the actual evaluation system that is in place. Does it meet the needs of your organization? More importantly, do reviewers actually understand how to use it? And do they all understand it in the same way?

For those of you brave enough to tackle your company’s performance-evaluation system, I applaud you! It’s a very worthwhile effort, even if you meet great resistance. Below, I discuss the four basic types of rating systems. Once you know how you want to rate, then you can decide what you want to rate. Put the two together, and you’re off to the races.

There are variety of ways to rate an employee’s performance. Generally, though, there are four common approaches used by the majority of businesses. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Below is a summary of the four types. The benefits and pitfalls will be discussed in a subsequent post.

Numerical Rating. Each attribute or objective is rated with a number, usually on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest level of performance.

Evaluation. The employee is rated on his or her level of performance for the targeted objectives. Words such as Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory, and Superior are commonly used to rate how the employee performs each objective. Other language may include Distinguished, Superior, Fully Satisfactory, Fair, and Incompetent. In this model, the employee is not rated against anyone but himself and the reviewer’s expectations.

Behavioral Frequency. In this system, a list of targeted behaviors are identified and assigned a frequency, with the most frequent representing the highest level of achievement. An example might be: “Employee submits monthly budgets in a timely and complete fashion.” And the ratings may range from Rarely, to Sometimes, to Frequently, to Usually, to Always.

Comparison-Based. This rating system compares the performance of the employee to a pre-determined standard. For example, the employee may Meet the Standard, Exceed the Standard, Partially Meet the Standard, and so forth.

See also: It’s hard to write a good employee evaluation. Get over it.