How do calibration meetings work?
So that managers use the same evaluation rule!
Updated over a week ago

After the performance evaluation cycle, many companies do the famous "calibration". But what is this? We, from Qulture.Rocks will help you :)

What is it?

Calibration is the penultimate phase of a evaluation.

Managers (typically from a department or set of related departments) meet to discuss the performance of their direct reports and agree on the performance evalution conducted.

What is it for?

Calibration precisely serves to calibrate the hands of managers. Managers may have biases or simply sets of experiences and backgrounds that make them more or less "heavy-handed" in their evaluations. Calibration meetings precisely serve so that managers, under the tutelage of the HR area, arrive at common evaluation weights and measures among themselves.

Calibration of performance evalutaions serves to increase the accuracy of the assessments made by managers. Making sure that these evaluations are fair and accurate is critically important. The calibration process helps ensure that all employees have been evaluated against the same criteria.

The calibration process ensures that:

  • Evaluation of the employee's past performance is conducted fairly and objectively in relation to other employees of similar function/job/department;

  • Managers apply similar standards and criteria for all employees;

Collective discussion among managers allows them to gain new insights into their direct reports performance and to reduce potential biases they may have. The peer discussion (the manager with other managers) brings transparency to the process, drawing attention to the tendencies of this or that manager to evaluate his or her employees in a too lenient or too critical manner. Managers become accountable to each other for the evaluations of all employees discussed.

How does it work?

During a calibration meeting, managers discuss with facts, examples, and data their views toward their subordinates. Typically, some discussions take place in relative terms. A more heavy-handed manager (Manager A) may have rated her led (Led A) as "Meets Expectations" when another manager (Manager B) rated her led (Led B) as "Above Expectations". However, Manager A understands that Leader A has a better performance than Leader B, and a discussion based on examples, results and behavior follows until an agreement is reached.

Usually managers from related areas meet in the same meeting. For example, in a Qulture.Rocks' client company, the meetings were separated in HR and Finance, Support, Technology and Strategy, and finally Product and Design.

After a "slice" by area, a slice is made by seniority of the employees to be discussed. In a company that has simple positions, the managers of the HR and Finance areas can start discussing the evaluations of supervisors and analysts. Later, the directors discuss the manager's evaluations, and so on. The idea is that employees who will be actively discussed by their managers always leave the room.

In performance appraisal software like Qulture.Rocks', HR can leave calibration groups preconfigured so that discussions can be started from a click. We call these "calibration segments." Read more about it here.

In the hypothetical example below, we would have one calibration segment with all the supervisors in the company, who would be calibrated by the managers, and another committee with the four managers in the company, who would be calibrated by the two directors:

Image caption:

Diretor means Director

Gerente means Manager

Supervisor means Supervisor

Checklist for preparing a calibration meeting

Here are some critical points that you should ensure if you are organizing a performance evaluation:

  1. Schedule the meetings earlier and publish a schedule with key dates for all managers;

  2. Communicate and train managers on what is expected of them in terms of participation and prior preparation;

  3. Maximize the personal presence of managers at meetings. Remote participation (video or call) is far worse and less productive;

  4. Ensure that all managers have already performed their evaluations in the performance evaluation system, so that these can be discussed;

  5. If an optimal distribution of evaluation (such as a 20/70/10 curve) is used for northern purposes, it should be communicated to managers at the beginning of the appraisal process;

The HR area should have data and tools to help conduct the meetings. Some suggestions are averages of the evaluations given by each manager, which may accentuate discrepancies of rules/criteria (for example, on average Manager A evaluated her subordinates worse than Manager B, as well as averages per committee being held (for example, an average of the managers of the HR + Financial areas in relation to the other managers of the company).

The effect of cognitive biases on calibration

At Google, all participants in a calibration meeting are given a sheet of paper listing and explaining the key cognitive biases that can affect our judgment in performance reviews. This help is taken by Laszlo Bock, former VP of People Operations at the company, as key to increasing the objectivity of calibration discussions.

Cognitive biases are shortcuts that our brains take to make quick judgments about our environment. They were very useful when we were semi-wild beings and needed to defend ourselves quickly against nature's threats (ever notice how quickly our bodies react to a scare? How the adrenaline, which serves to prepare us for an eventual escape, is discharged in a millisecond? Well, yes.) However, these reactions are no longer useful nowadays, because they get in the way of our rational judgments. Therefore, it is essential to know about them and be aware of their effects.

Some of the main cognitive biases are:

Recency bias

Mistake: we tend to remember only what is fresh in our memory.

Antidote: force yourself to think about evidence from the whole period.

Halo" or "horns" effect

Mistake: we tend to ignore evidence to the contrary when we have our memory marked by good or bad things the person has done.

Antidote: think about whether the evidence doesn't point to a trend reversal.

Fundamental attribution error

Mistake: we tend to attribute results (or the lack of results) to a person's competence or effort, when often these results were determined by exogenous issues.

Antidote: question whether the results were actually produced by the person (whether there is a cause and effect relationship).

Confirmation bias

Mistake: we try to filter and "find" evidence that confirms our prejudices (hear only what we want).

Antidote: ask yourself: what is my bias here? What do I want to confirm unconsciously?

What is performance calibration not?

Calibration of performance appraisals - what we have discussed so far - should not be confused with a succession planning meeting, which is called "People Chess". In fact, a big risk of the calibration process is that there is no clarity of what is - and what is not - being discussed there.

The purpose of the People's Chess meeting is to discuss who will be promoted to which position, to define who is more or less ready to take on more responsibilities, who is the natural successor to position A or B, and so on. In these succession planning meetings, much more complete aspects than just performance evaluations have to be taken into account, such as the employee's potential, his willingness to relocate, his willingness to take on new challenges, the existence of a successor for him, among other factors.

The performance calibration, on the other hand, only discusses the criteria being evaluated in the assessment, which are usually some variation of results, on one axis, and behaviors, on another axis.

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