Research has highlighted three key non-performance factors that can distort the performance ratings managers give to their employees.1 While rating subordinates, managers consider the negative consequences that can occur when providing accurate ratings, the organizational norms surrounding how they are supposed to rate, and the potential of fulfilling self-interests. These three factors add to the complexity of how managers are motivated to rate, and they lend support to the idea that managers are not always motivated to rate their subordinates accurately.
Avoiding the negative consequences associated with rating a subordinate accurately can be a significant motivator for managers to distort ratings. Managers have been found to have a desire to develop or maintain positive relationships with their subordinates, and if giving their subordinates inflated ratings helps them build relationships, it can be attractive to distort those ratings.2 Furthermore, giving negative, albeit accurate, ratings to subordinates can produce negative consequences. These negative consequences can include damaging interpersonal relationships, conflict, and uncomfortable situations.1 If managers inflate the ratings of subordinates, they have the potential to avoid these negative consequences all together while potentially benefitting their relationships with their subordinates.
Another important factor to consider is the organizational norms present within the organization. These norms can describe the common practices or beliefs surrounding performance management, and they will be unique to each organization. These can become a problem in the context of managers providing accurate performance ratings when the norms are associated with bad practices.1 For example, a problematic norm at an organization could be when managers do not take performance ratings seriously, and that they are just something they are tasked to do once a year. Additionally, a norm could be that all managers might give every subordinate an “Average” rating regardless of how they performed. These norms can drive managers to give inaccurate ratings to avoid violating the organizational norms of their organization.
The last important factor involves the self-interests of the managers.1 In general, managers have been found to desire to possess a positive image of themselves and their employees, and this can be a motivation to distort the performance ratings of their subordinates.2 Regardless of if it is true, managers might believe a part of their own performance is dependent on the performance of their subordinates. In this context, managers would be tempted to distort ratings to make themselves look better to their superiors and to the organization. Financial bonuses could be tied to how their subordinates are performing as well, which could further motivate managers to inflate ratings.
Overall, there are many factors that can motivate a manager to distort their subordinates’ performance ratings, and it is safe to say managers are not always motivated to rate accurately. With this in mind, there are two tactics that can be taken to encourage managers to rate accurately. First, create organizational norms that support and encourage accurate and thoughtful performance ratings. This can be formally accomplished by training managers on how to evaluate performance effectively. The training can give managers the tools and knowledge they need on how to rate accurately, display the value of performance ratings, and emphasize the importance of accurate performance ratings specific to their organization. Secondly, hold managers accountable for rating their subordinates accurately. Give performance ratings to the managers based on the thoroughness and accuracy of the ratings of their subordinates. This can be accomplished by asking managers to provide reasoning for the ratings they give their subordinates. Since managers will expect to be held accountable for why they gave specific ratings to their subordinates, they will tend to be better prepared for their rating task, take more performance-related notes, and pay more attention to their subordinates’ performance over time.3
Creating a performance management system that is effective can be complex and overwhelming. Rater motivation is just one consideration that needs to be addressed when developing, maintaining, or improving a performance management system. However, with the right assistance, this is an achievable and rewarding endeavor.
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1Spence, J. R., & Keeping, L. M. (2010). The impact of non‐performance information on ratings of job performance: A policy‐capturing approach. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31(4): 587-608.
2Spence, J. R., & Keeping, L. M. (2011). Conscious rating distortion in performance appraisal: A review, commentary, and proposed framework for research. Human Resource Management Review, 21(2): 85-95.
3Mero, N. P., Motowidlo, S. J., & Anna, A. L. 2003. Effects of accountability on rating behavior and rater accuracy. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33 (12): 2493–2514.