Research Summary: Getting the Most from Your Calibration Process


With traditional performance processes under fire, but continued pressure to deliver a vehicle for measurement and feedback, leading organizations have incorporated calibration into the process. If done right, calibration can not only improve the value of reviews today, but create a foundation for business-centric performance management going forward.

However, if done wrong, calibration only serves to exacerbate the complaints and frustrations of the business.  Based on interviews with more than twenty organizations, this best practice report lays out the best methods for creating and running successful calibration sessions.

A. Introduction

As HR organizations look to transform their performance management practice from an after-the-fact forced documentation to a driver of business outcomes, calibration can not only improve the perceived fairness of today’s process, but raise the value of performance management to the business by:

  • Socializing expectations.
  • Gaining visibility into cross-team capabilities.
  • Better preparing managers to coach employees.
  • Providing a natural segue to broader business conversations.

                   Figure 1. Incorporating Calibration into the Performance Process

B. 7 Key Steps in Running a Successful Calibration Process

In order to leverage calibration as a business value generator rather than a mechanism for further frustration, organizations must understand the key steps in running successful calibration sessions:

  1. Get what matters on the table.
  2. Make the conversation king.
  3. Make the tough calls.
  4. Own the result.
  5. Broaden insight.
  6. Move toward future-focused business impact.
  7. Communicate “what’s in it for me” to managers and employees.

                                    Figure 2. Structure of a Performance Calibration Session

C. Actionable Advice for HR Leaders

With few organizations satisfied with performance-appraisal results and most re-designing their process every three to five years, it is easy to incorporate a new fad and quickly become disenchanted. The calibration process is not a new fad – it has been found to be an effective practice. However, it needs to be done right or it will just lead to further frustration. Summary recommendations to get started:

  • Ensure proper investment. Can your organization invest in facilitators, coaching for managers, and getting executive support for establishing what matters?  Such investment is critical in rolling out a process that positively impacts managers and their teams.
  • Keep it simple. The investment in the process should center around driving better conversations – amongst managers within the meeting and between managers and employees outside of the meeting.  Meanwhile complex processes and administrative demands should be kept to a minimum.
  • Look for calibrations already occurring in the organization. Since this is a business-driven activity, some business areas or teams might be conducting calibration-type sessions.  Some groups may be effectively using calibration sessions to drive useful conversations and consistent results.  Look to these pockets for initial investment and value creation; then leverage these examples throughout the organization.

D. Report Links

Get the full framework with component details on what’s different and where the business benefits lay. Find out how vendors will need to respond – and what you should expect from them. Buy the full research report on the Constellation Research website.

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