Ditch What’s Broken — It’s Time to Embrace Modern, Efficient Calibration Processes

By Michelle Gouldsberry
April 5, 2023
6 minute read

Traditional performance calibration processes are anything but efficient: They’re often multilayered, laborious, and drawn out. By the time most organizations complete their calibration processes, the performance data they started with is outdated and irrelevant.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Fewer than half of the managers we surveyed for our 2022 State of Performance Enablement report say they have a fair, transparent, and effective tool for calibrating, auditing, and balancing reviews and rankings. Capturing the breadth and depth of workforce performance data for unbiased calibration feels like an impossible challenge.

And calibration is a critical part of effective performance management. The calibration process assesses and compares employee performance ratings against predetermined standards to ensure that ratings are fair and consistent across the organization. Calibration typically involves HR leaders and managers working together.

The calibration process is important for clarifying the organization’s standards. Without defining what “good” performance and “high-potential” look like, your managers might rate employee performance based on very different criteria — which introduces bias and makes identifying top performers more difficult.

There is a better way to calibrate performance ratings. Through a process of continuous calibration, you can save time, involve key stakeholders, and produce the data you need when you need it.

Modern calibration saves time

Traditional calibration processes take up countless hours of time and effort. (Some HR business partners have told us that the annual calibration makes them feel like accountants at tax time.) 

Gartner research found that the average amount of time spent on performance calibration across all employees and managers is about 11 hours per employee per year.

Calibration takes so long because many organizations do it manually, using slide decks and spreadsheets. After gathering performance data, the HR team uses pivot tables to slice and dice the data. Then they push the results back out to managers for validation.

From there, HR teams repeat this process at multiple levels, resulting in dozens of additional reviews. And for an extra layer of impracticality, someone has to track every decision as it’s made to maintain adequate records for compliance, resulting in countless hours spent on back-and-forth processes. The time-consuming activity typically limits companies to performing calibrations once a year.

A lightweight calibration process that can be used on an ongoing basis can save massive amounts of time for your managers and your HR teams. Although this might seem contradictory, making performance conversations lighter but more frequent actually simplifies calibration processes and reduces the time burden on your people. 

Think about it this way: A manager checks in with team members weekly for a few minutes. During their check-in, the manager updates each employee’s performance data, creating a snapshot of their progress, and identifying the team’s top performers in real-time. 

Over a full year, this weekly update adds up to less time than the annual review, which requires managers to sift through months of data and hold long conversations with each employee. In addition, the insights from weekly check-ins are fresher and likely more accurate than trying to encompass months of work in one discussion. 

Since managers are reviewing performance on an ongoing basis, HR can also calibrate performance ratings more regularly. You can prompt managers to consider whether they’re introducing bias or being too lenient in their ratings (reporting that everyone exceeds expectations, for example). 

By proactively bringing a high level of awareness to the calibration process — instead of waiting for an HR-led mega project — everyone saves time.

Simplified calibration welcomes engagement

Managers are the stakeholders closest to performance reviews, so their insights are vital to the calibration process. Traditionally, HR gathers manager input through cumbersome calibration meetings. Such legacy processes gatekeep calibration and put the onus on HR to collect and interpret managers’ input.

Modern, efficient calibration processes solve this problem by equipping managers with the tools they need to apply basic ratings throughout the year. This active role for managers improves the consistency of results and produces a comprehensive data set — all without all the back and forth.

Betterworks’ solution provides manager-access calibration, a feature that empowers managers to participate in the process in real-time while automatically tracking any changes. Managers can share, view, and edit calibration information. By participating earlier in the process, managers can easily view the distribution of their ratings in a visual format to help them understand if they have been too harsh or too lenient in the ratings they have awarded. — making ‌meetings with the HR team less of a surprise and more productive.

Modern calibration delivers the data you need when you need it

Traditional calibration efforts are so labor-intensive that most organizations are stuck with a one-size-fits-all model such as the traditional  9-box model. But a more flexible, frequent approach to calibration gives your team the opportunity to compare people through many dimensions, including high performance, potential, promotion, and as future leaders for succession planning purposes.

A more flexible calibration model also allows HR teams to calibrate specific roles, teams, and departments throughout the year. Homing in on groups enables managers and HR to make targeted interventions rather than addressing all problems at once — often belatedly. Frequent calibration helps employees see where they stand in real-time in terms of performance and potential. And it helps employers quickly identify and reward high performers.

Innovating your calibration process also increases accuracy and reduces the effect of people’s biases or preconceptions. For example, Gartner research found 64% of managers believe that office workers are better performers than remote workers. But the truth is, full-time remote workers were 5% more likely to be high performers, according to data from 2019 and 2020.

The right approach to calibration should also enable HR to segment data to catch potential biases such as those based on gender, ethnicity, or other key protected attributes within the calibration process. For example, with just a few clicks, Betterworks Calibration allows HR to gather objective performance insights and see whether decisions are impacting certain employee populations unfairly. This data makes a difference — creating a foundation of transparency and trust between employees, HR, managers, and the review process as a whole, while also helping an organization fulfill its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

Best practices for efficient calibration

A modern approach to calibration provides the tools and capabilities to simplify and speed the entire process, while also providing organizations with greater accuracy and flexibility.

Greater manager involvement

Managers can and should play a more central role in the calibration process. They should have the ability to not only import and view performance review data, but edit it as well, a unique capability provided by the Betterworks calibration module. A simpler process also empowers managers to easily view performance data of their team as a whole, not just individually. This can help managers ensure they’re rating all their employees fairly and eliminating inadvertent bias.

Frequent conversations for accuracy

Frequent and documented conversations between managers and employees enable better quantitative and qualitative data gathering over time so that when it comes time for calibration, the quality of the input accurately reflects the employee’s performance. This approach also helps the employee see where they stand in real-time so that there are no surprises and stress when it comes time for the performance review.

While conversations may be more frequent, they are far more streamlined and lightweight than conducting performance reviews once or twice a year, especially if the performance management software used provides configurable conversation templates. More frequent check-ins translate into mid-year or end-of-year reviews that take less time because accurate data is already present.

Flexibility for teams

Organizations should be able to respond flexibly to the varying needs of different departments. For example, the engineering team may want to conduct more frequent calibrations to regularly promote team members who are involved in agile sprints and multiple cross-functional projects. A more automated and efficient calibration process enables companies to tailor their calibration activities according to the needs of each department.

Reduce time spent

Traditional calibration processes drag managers, HR business partners, and others into a repetitive and time-consuming cycle of importing data from spreadsheets and slides, checking data, note-taking, and compliance checks. The number of people-hours spent on calibration exponentially increases as more people and more processes are required. Such an approach can be a challenge for lean HR teams. The administrative burden also drains away time that could be spent on higher-value strategic activities.

An automated approach based on frequent check-ins streamlines many of these processes, reducing the time and burden of traditional calibration and the number of people needed to participate in it. Modern calibration also simplifies compliance by creating an audit trail.

When your calibration process is more flexible and more frequent, you produce nuanced, actionable calibration data that helps you make better decisions about performance, planning, and promotions.

Stop ‌the back and forth. Adopt a modern, efficient calibration process. To learn more, read the Betterworks Calibration brochure.

Discover a way better way to do calibration