A Comprehensive Guide to Performance Review Calibration

Performance reviews come with many benefits for both employees and businesses. They encourage employees to create goals, which in turn results in career growth. All the while, you’re clarifying expectations and increasing engagement. Reviews can also improve performance and strengthen relationships between employees and managers. This can decrease employee turnover.

To reap these benefits, performance reviews need to be consistent and fair. You have to standardize performance reviews so that everyone’s review is weighted equally. That should apply regardless of their position and what department they work in.

That's where a performance review calibration comes in.

But, what is performance calibration? How can you harness the power of a properly calibrated appraisal process in your organization?

Here's everything you need to know about review calibrations. We’ll also include performance calibration examples to help you create an honest and unbiased review process.

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What is Performance Review Calibration? 

A performance review calibration ensures reviews measure everyone according to the same standards. It can include making rating standards consistent, but it doesn’t have to include ratings.

Ratings don't have to be used to rank employees against each other. You can create a consistent rating scale that informs employees of their performance without making them feel like they’re competing with their coworkers. You can still provide managers with consistent data on high-performing employees who have earned a raise or bonus. You can also provide data on underperforming employees who could use more training and support.

How Can HR Lead Performance Review Calibration?

Managers are usually in charge of the review process. That said, a performance calibration is like a review for your review, As a result, HR should position itself as the overseeing expert.

So how does HR act as a leader throughout the calibration process?

HR can:

  • Offer training on how to conduct effective calibration meetings and supply resources for those meetings, like data that will help managers make important decisions.
  • Know and understand company policies and legal requirements to ensure the process is compliant.
  • Track and audit the performance calibration process by identifying potential biases and inconsistencies so the process is fair and transparent for everyone.
  • Provide feedback and take on a coaching role with managers so they can better support their direct reports.

What Are the Steps for Performance Review Calibration?

Taking on a performance review calibration can feel overwhelming. How do you even get started?

The trick is to break down the process into manageable steps that can be completed one at a time. They include:

  • Determine a rating system
  • Set expectations for what behaviors merit each ranking
  • Facilitate feedback from multiple reviewers
  • Hold a performance review calibration session
  • Adjust performance reviews
  • Set one-on-ones to deliver performance reviews

Determine a rating system

Start by creating a rating system. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. There are many types of rating scales out there that you can use as inspiration.

For example, Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS) are a popular way of rating employees. They focus on assessing specific behaviors within selected jobs to minimize the possibility of subjective or biased scores.

You might use numbers too. You can create a binary scale that categorizes behaviors as a failure or a success. Alternatively, you can create a Likert scale that measures agreement or disagreement with a statement.

What matters most is that you choose a scale that works for your organization and implement it consistently.

performance calibration

Set expectations for what behaviors merit each ranking

Just because you are using a rating scale doesn’t mean managers and employees know what each item on the scale means. For example, what’s the difference between a 3 and a 4 rating when a 4 rating means an employee has exceeded expectations? What does an employee have to do (or not do) to earn a 1 rating?

Draft real-world examples for each rating so everyone is on the same page about exactly what each one means and under what circumstances each one is given.

Facilitate feedback from multiple reviewers

Calibrating reviews is all about making sure they’re consistent and fair. Another great way to do that is to incorporate feedback from multiple reviewers with 360 reviews.

Running a 360 review process involves gathering feedback not only from a manager but also from others in the organization who interact with the employee being reviewed. It can also include a self-review. That way HR can see if there are discrepancies between multiple employees' and managers' perceptions of performance.

review calibration

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Hold a performance review calibration session 

Coming together to compare performance reviews after they have been completed is an important part of the calibration process. HR should bring managers together in small-group sessions where everyone has the chance to discuss ratings and talk about why employees were rated the way they were.

Performance rating calibration questions you might ask during the meeting include:

  • Is there a different way to interpret certain behaviors?
  • Would you have made the same judgment if the employee was someone else?
  • Which assessments were the most difficult to give? Which were the easiest?
  • What questions on the assessment would you get rid of? Are there any you would like to add?

During the meeting, HR can act as an overseeing party that addresses potential calibration issues. This helps standardize reviews across the organization while minimizing the possibility of the halo and horn effects.

Adjust performance reviews 

It’s up to HR to make adjustments based on what was uncovered during calibration sessions with managers. Because HR has a big-picture view of the organization, they can ensure any adjustments are in line with organizational guidelines, in addition to better-serving employees and managers.

Set one-on-ones to deliver performance reviews

Performance reviews should continue throughout the calibration process. Although it’s time-consuming to calibrate and conduct reviews, managers shouldn’t skip in-person meetings.

By meeting in person, managers can not only deliver ratings, but they can explain the reasoning behind each one. It creates a transparent process that employees appreciate, but it also encourages managers to accurately assign scores and ratings because they have to be delivered face-to-face.

What Are the Benefits of a Performance Review Calibration?

There are a lot of things to do when it comes to calibrating the review process, but there are some really good reasons to do it.

A performance review calibration:

  • Increases review consistency
  • Increases transparency and trust
  • Reduces bias

Increases review consistency

Giving scores can be a subjective experience. One manager may give a 5 rating because an employee went above and beyond, while another may give a 5 rating for completing their job duties—no more and no less.

With performance calibration, each rating is clearly defined so that a top performer in any department is performing at the level set by the organization. Managers give ratings according to this standard instead of their personal preferences.

Increases transparency and trust

Reviews can be nerve-racking for employees who feel like their rating is dependent upon their manager’s opinion of their performance. That’s not the case when the review process is properly calibrated. Employees know exactly what kind of behavior results in which ratings, so they trust that their ratings will be accurate. They feel like they will receive a fair review, which positively impacts employee morale. 

Reduces bias 

It’s easy for bias to creep into the review process. It doesn’t always happen on purpose either. Managers may give a certain score based on a subconscious bias, like the way an employee looks or acts. The employee receives a score that they think is based on their performance when in reality, it could be based on something else entirely.

Calibrating the review process ensures that employees are compared against a standard of performance so their opinion doesn’t affect ratings at all.

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What Are the Cons of Performance Review Calibration?

Performance calibration comes with benefits, but it also has some cons you’ll want to be aware of before you begin your calibration process.

They include issues like:

  • Time-consuming
  • Can be discouraging for managers
  • More performance review calibrations may be necessary


The performance review process can take a lot of time. Incorporating a process for calibrating performance reviews takes even more time. HR has to schedule meetings, adjust ratings, and help ensure compliance. If HR and managers try to squeeze it all in with their normal workload, it can cause a lot of stress, and the quality of the calibration process can be compromised.

Can be discouraging for managers

Managers can feel discouraged if HR doesn’t agree with their initial ratings, and especially if their ratings are changed. It can lead managers to believe that their opinion doesn’t matter.

Include opportunities for managers to leave qualitative feedback during the review process as well. That way they can share their opinions, but they don’t affect the employee’s overall score.

More performance review calibrations may be necessary

Performance calibration isn’t a one-and-done event. As the company evolves, departments evolve, and employees evolve, the system will have to be calibrated again and again to ensure ratings haven’t gotten off track. Calibration has to be incorporated into the review process for it to be effective.

What Is a Calibration Review?

A calibration is like a review for your review, but your calibration process needs to be reviewed too!

That’s where a calibration review comes in.

During this session, HR makes sure the initial round of calibration is still being used effectively. You can see if managers are finding it easy to follow, if employees appreciate the changes, and if scores are being given as consistently as expected.

You can hone the process with a calibration review. It ensures all the time you spend calibrating performance reviews is well spent so you can repeat the process or make changes ahead of the next review cycle.

What Software Can I Use to Conduct a Performance Review Calibration

A performance review calibration is made much easier when you utilize the right software.

PerformYard enables you to standardize review questions and rating scales. You can collect data on one platform that managers and employees all use, so there’s no chasing down data that’s being stored individually. Reviews can quickly and easily be modified by both HR and managers with the click of a button.

HR can oversee the entire process while managers and employees participate, creating a sense of teamwork and transparency.

Use PerformYard's performance data to run modern performance calibrations.Learn More

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