The Myth of Objectivity In Performance Reviews

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We all like to think that our observations are "objective". We want our evaluations of employees to be objective, too, but it's easy to forget that even when we measure things, or think we're measuring things objectively, there's always some degree of subjectivity, not to mention inaccuracy. Even in cases where we evaluate using "objective measures" about something like sales figures, the CHOICE of what to measure, and what's important is subjective.

Data as Accurate and Objective vs. Data as Indicative

Particularly when people use tools that seem to measure performance in a numeric way, as we find with employee rating systems, there’s a very strong natural tendency to treat those numbers or evaluations as being objective and accurate, particularly after the fact. People forget that the “data,” such as ratings on a one-to-five scale, are still very subjective and do not reflect the same kind of measure as “real” numbers, like dollar sales or number of widgets produced in a month.

Just because we stick numbers on performance indicators doesn't make them objectives. One of the biggest problems with rating systems is it gives us a false sense of objectivity, when in fact, most ratings are no more objective thatn "one person's opinion".

Real numbers are quantifiable and if you count correctly should give you the same result no matter who counts. These are objective and accurate measurements. With rating scales, that’s not the case. The rating or number assigned reflects a very subjective judgment. Misuse happens and poor decisions are made when that data is considered accurate and objective.
It’s not. It’s not accurate because it really doesn’t involve measuring. It’s not objective either.


Managers and companies that forget this can get into trouble. Treating any performance review data as objective and accurate when it is probably not can result in poor personnel decisions. It’s best to treat all performance review data, except that determined by real quantitative measurement, as performance indicators, but not accurate exact measurements of performance.


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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