Keith's Notes

Above Average Expectations

Mar 31, 2023, 7:41 AM

There's the old story that comes up now and then in surveys where something like 90% of people think they are "above average" in intelligence or whatever. Of course, in reality you'd expect somewhere closer 50% to be above average and 50% below average, assuming some kind of even distribution.

I ran across another twist on this recently. Companies sometimes rate their employees based on "meets expectations", "exceeds expectations", or "does not meet expectations". Managers do the scoring.

And the senior leadership comes back and they are not happy because not enough people exceed expectations. In other words, they expected more people to exceed expectations. Which starts to get into a weird feedback loop.

It even gets weird for those doing the evaluations. "Jim is doing great. He does more than others. He exceeds expections." But Jim is at a senior level with more exprience. So we expect him to do more. So really, he's just meeting expectations, and should be rated the same as everyone else even though he's doing twice the work.

Some of the confusion comes from the abstraction of the levels. Instead of saying "meets", "doesn't meet", "exceeds", we just make these 1, 2, and 3. So it's easy for management to say, "we expect more 3s" without running into the syntactical paradox. Then you start to hear stuff like, we expect you to raise some of those 2s to be 3s. Which translates to "we expect that the people who are meeting expectations to start exceeding expectations". So if they only continue to meet expectations, they are then failing to meet expectations.

And if someone is rated a 3, then they are exceeding expections. We then see them as someone who operates at that level and have a new expection for them. On the next eval cycle, even though they are still operating at that level, are they now just a 2, because they are meeting our new expectations? Did their performance rating drop because their level of performance drop?

Oddly, the 1 to 2 range doesn't run into the paradox from what I can see. "We expect you to raise some of those 1s to 2s" seems ok to me. We expect you to get some of those people who are not meeting expectations to start meeting them. OK, fair.

In general though, I'm not a big fan of this rating system. If someone is doing their job 100%, then they are meeting expectations. They get a 2, which is mid level. Dangerously close to underperforming, which is at risk of being let go. The only way to get a top rating is to do more than you were hired to do, or more than you are paid for. But part of being a manager is going along with this stuff and supporting your decently-performing people through it all.