The Power of Calibration

How many of you recently concluded an annual performance review for your team members? How did it go? Don’t ask yourself, ask the employees. A performance appraisal is supposed to help them get an accurate picture of their performance. The right feedback can help employees give insight in to their possible career progress.

One of the complaints I often hear about performance appraisals is that employees find the assessment subjective and they can’t relate their appraisal with that of their colleagues in other parts of the organization. First of all let me refute one common misconception: assessments are by definition; subjective. They can’t and never should be objective, as the element that you are measuring is not the same for each and every individual or organization. However in order to ensure equity and fairness, it is necessary that the same level of subjectivity is applied across organizations and not have one boss be more generous (or more stingy) than others.

You can, within an organization, department or team, create consistency of criteria, so the assessment of an employee in one department is relatively comparable with the assessment of another employee in another department.

How you might ask? The answer is relatively simple; by calibrating the assessments of employees across the organization before you have your performance conversations.

I have recently helped a number of companies in doing just that and the results have been pretty amazing. According to Sadia Junaid, Organization Development Manager for Engro Foods: “Calibration is a powerful tool that enables managers to connect the dots and complete the picture before you step into a performance appraisal discussion with your team members. It’s the perfect way to enhance the quality of feedback for your employees”.

So what is a calibration exercise? It is a discussion between line managers in which they compare, agree and cluster the performance and potential of all their direct reports across their teams. In doing so they:
– Assess their direct reports equitably and across organization / department
– Get input for the performance review from peers on their direct reports
– Agree collectively on development needs and career actions
– Speak with ‘one voice’ as a leadership team to individual managers

Not only do you help create more equity, you can also identify and agree who your ‘Top Talent’ is, making it easier for you to focus your development resources on the talent you want to spend it on.

Asking Shan UL Haq, People Excellence Director at Telenor Pakistan, about their experience with calibrating their talent, he said: “It clearly singled out our top talent – and also those resources whom we need to invest time in terms of performance management. The most important consequence of the exercise was a much clearer understanding of the development needs of our talent”.

The talent calibration exercise does require time investment. Is it worth it? …Yes! I guarantee you that your performance discussion and the satisfaction for both employee and line manager will significantly increase and as with every process, you get more out of it the more and longer you practice it!

If you have any performance discussion experience you want to share, send it to or leave a comment on this blog. Looking forward to hear your stories.

– Paul Keijzer


3 thoughts on “The Power of Calibration

  1. Calibration is a very powerful tool. Management Team’s comments on performance and potential, uniformity in judgment criteria, and agreement on the final outlook of talent post a usually intense & engaged discussion can clearly give an overview of top talent, development needs of all employees being reviewed etc.

    As for your question on worth of these sessions, i believe, line management would only see the value of their time and energy invested in the talent review sessions if the outcome is materialised into development plans being executed, top talent being given more challenges and more complex roles and succession plans being implemented.

    It is very similar to the annual engagement surveys. It is not enough to just run the process, but to create post results value by following through on agreed action items. As HR professionals, it is imperative that we close the loop on such processes by excellently executing the conclusion of the sessions.

  2. Good article Paul.
    I am not an HR person however do you have any material that can help me in understanding Talent Calibration Exercise?
    Since I left my ex company back in 2009, I am living in the stoneage in Saudi Arabia where most of the companies (and managers) take Performance Appraisal as Confidential Revenge (Review).
    However, I would like to do something different with my team and this exercise may help me.

  3. Thanks Moin.
    The calibration exercise is all about getting people from the same level. The line mangers discuss the performance and potential of each others team members. The discussion start by each of the line managers putting their direct reports into a 3×3 grid. The 3×3 grid is displayed on the wall and has performance (below, in line and outstanding) on one axis and potential (low, middle and high) on the other.

    The power is in the open discussion and colleagues sharing feedback, insights and views of each others team members. To help here often a facilitator is being used who helps ‘ask the right questions’ to challenge or get examples.

    Obviously this space is too limited to give an extensive explanation but I hope it helps.

    Warm regards Paul

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