Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 2;   January 11, 2017: Meets Expectations

Meets Expectations

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing. Why?
Drawing the line between one category and the next

In the top half of the figure, where is the line between red and blue? Drawing the line between one category and the next might seem simple enough. But when subjective judgment is involved, or when information is unevenly distributed, people make differing choices.

Perhaps the most widely used rating in performance management systems is the dreaded meets expectations. People who contribute in ways and at levels that are certainly beyond anyone's expectations find "meets expectations" demoralizing. Why? After all, they did meet expectations. Here are some possible explanations for strong feelings about the "meets" rating, for people whose jobs fall in the category called knowledge work.

Check your own expectations
You risk disappointment unless you have concrete indications that your supervisor's expectations are in alignment with your own expectations vis-à-vis your performance. Rare are the supervisors who specify precisely their expectations for their subordinates' performance.
For many, it's realistic to assume ambiguity about the distinction between "meets" and "exceeds" performance levels. Most supervisors are free to assess anyone's performance as either "meets" or "exceeds" without risk of contradicting any standard, stated or not. To the extent that supervisors are free in this way, the distinction between "meets" and "exceeds" is meaningless, and expectations that you will receive any particular rating are unjustified.
Accept the complexity of performance
Performance is such a complex entity that precisely defining objective specifications distinguishing "meets" from "exceeds" is probably impossible. For some jobs, even writing a complete job description is difficult.
Even though Performance is such a complex entity
that precisely defining objective
specifications distinguishing
"meets" from "exceeds" is
probably impossible
you might feel that your performance exceeds anyone's reasonable expectations, recognize that you probably know more about your performance than your supervisor does. This isn't a justification for anyone undervaluing your performance. Rather, it's a criticism of the simple-mindedness of most performance management systems. To believe that one can justify any rating, including "exceeds," by citing facts, is to subscribe to the idea that one can rate performance on such a simple scale. Don't fall for this trap.
Know whether your supervisor has quota constraints
Often, employers use a performance rating framework known as forced ranking or forced distribution in which they set quotas for the various levels of the performance rating system. For example, they might require supervisors to rate no more than one subordinate as "outstanding" and no more than 5% of their subordinates "exceeds." Except for employees with serious performance issues, the rest of their subordinates are then relegated to "meets."
Such a scheme is, of course, irrational. It rates people not according to their performance, but according to some target distribution of ratings, nearly independent of performance. Because the irrationality of the scheme conflicts so dramatically with the high standards of rationality required of knowledge workers, many find the hypocrisy intolerable.

The problem of designing a performance management system for knowledge work is much bigger than merely distinguishing "meets" from "exceeds." In many cases, the value of a knowledge worker's contributions might not be evident — even to experts — until years pass. Keep that in mind when someone tells you that your performance "meets expectations." Usually, they really don't know what to expect.

Be less concerned about an obviously unjust performance evaluation than about having accepted as legitimate a fundamentally irrational performance evaluation process. Go to top Top  Next issue: On Differences and Disagreements  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

What not to eat on the phone: Peanut butterVirtual Communications: III
Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
Heiltskuk Icefield, British ColumbiaFinding the Third Way
When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.
The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airlinerThe Limits of Status Reports: II
We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.
Magic Lantern Slide of a dog jumping through a hoopJust-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops." Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops efficiently.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Assembling an IKEA chairComing October 7: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule. Available here and by RSS on October 7.
Crows mobbing a red-tailed hawkAnd on October 14: Power Mobbing at Work
Mobbing is a form of group bullying of an individual — the target. Power mobbing occurs when a politically powerful person orchestrates the mobbing. It's a form of bullying that is especially harmful to the target and the organization. Available here and by RSS on October 14.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.