Ever have that boss who told you during your annual performance review, I don’t give 5s. Everyone has room for improvement?
This is the workplace equivalent of the perfectionist parent:
– Dad, I pitched a no-hitter!
But what about those two batters you walked?
– Mom, I made dean’s list!
But you made an A- in Chemistry.
This type of emotional manipulation rarely motivates. It typically just creates resentment. Kids who experience too much of this wind-up in therapy. Employees who have this boss become disengaged…or simply leave.
The flip side of the no-one-gets-a-5 boss is the everyone-gets-a-trophy boss. Everyone can expect a 5 unless they really screw up.
Under-praising excellence (yeah, but…) or over-praising mediocrity each leads to the same result – star performers becoming disengaged. Telling a star performer that s/he earned the highest performance review rating possible because s/he achieved excellence is much more likely to lead to star performance again next year than telling a star they almost got a 5 this time, but if they work just a little harder, they might make it next year.
The best management approach is to define what excellence looks like and recognize and reward it when it happens. If a solid contributor is upset when they don’t get a 5, you must be able to explain what level 5 performance looks like. It must be achievable and they must understand where they are falling short.
And when a star is delivering star-level performance, give them a 5, (or whatever the top rating is in your organization), without hesitation! And thank them for the outstanding results.
I don’t remember a lot of my performance reviews, but I do remember the time that I received a meets expectations rating for profitability when my operation had tripled its budgeted profit goal. I asked my VP, what does it take to get an “exceeds expectations” in this company. He just chuckled. He didn’t want to be pinned down to any specific number, so he didn’t answer. And he didn’t change my rating. I guess he didn’t believe in giving 5s.