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Talent Watch - What's The Difference Between an Employee Who "Meets" and One Who "Exceeds"?

One word - "Innovate" Apple_henson_think_different

Two words - "Innovate" and "Create"  (I always think of the old "Think Different" campaign by Apple when I see these words).

One of the hardest things to do related to getting a robust Performance Management system in place is develop the right kind of evaluation culture.   How do your managers rate employees?  Are they soft or hard?   Are they challenged to have candid conversations with employees regarding what truly constitutes "Exceeds" performance?  What type of system has been in place in the past?  What type of business are you in?

The biggest challenge seems to exist for companies who are migrating from a subjective system to a more objective format, one where individual objectives and goals are set for every position in the company.  The primary challenge in this circumstance is not only to create individual goals and objectives, but also to set the bar for what is "Meets" performance vs. "Exceeds" performance.

How do you cope with this challenge?   Regardless of position, I focus on common identifiers which illustrate how someone who truly "Exceeds" in their performance differentiates themselves from the pack.  Much of how I viewed this revolves around rewarding those who create and innovate, but I have had my book of identifiers expanded recently by Scott Stone, CFO at SourceMedical.  Instead of positioning the value play as Meets vs. Exceeds, he calls them Expectations vs. Differentiators.  Regardless of the headers, here's the list: 

Examples of Identifiers signaling "Meets" Behavior:  Quality, Accuracy, Timeliness, Respect for Others, Integrity, Communicates Effectively, Accountable, Pride in Work Product, Team Player, External Locus of Control.

Examples of Identifiers signaling "Exceeds" Behavior:  Proactive, Creative, Innovative, Leads By Example, Seeks Greater Responsibility, Self-Motivated, Solution Oriented, Always Learning, Takes Chances, "Zooms", Internal Locus of Control, Builds Teams.

That's a pretty good list - special thanks to Scott for helping me get my head around them.  Apply these identifiers across any functional area to identify the true players - the ones that will not only help you maintain the status quo, but will blow up the status quo as necessary.  When you find them, reward them, and guard against rating inflation in your organization - lest you drive the players away because they don't feel like they are "different".... 




I so struggle with this personally and appreciate the differentiations. I have added elements to my performance standards that address systems thinking and organizational stewardship to separate the hard workers from those with the broader perspective but still don't feel I have my head around it in way that I am totally comfortable with.


What about a worker who may not be very innovative or creative, but pulls the load of, say, 2 average workers. Should the worker be rewarded. If not, I am sure a more enlightened organization or a keener recruiter wouldn't mind rewarding him or her.

The qualities you have listed for "Exceeds" seem more the qualities of a leader. And in fact, I would EXPECT those qualities of a leader--they should not be a stretch goal for someone in a leadership position.


These two groupings seem to do an adequate job in characterizing the difference between expected verses outstanding performance (if those were the only two categories your company used for appraising the employee's performance), but in utilizing a 5-category appraisal system (i.e., Unsatisfactory, Improvement Needed, Satisfactory, Exceeds Expectations, Outstanding), the appraising done above satifactory are often ambiguous. I've too often seen reviewing managers fail at differentiating between "exceeding expectations" and "outstanding performance".

The identifiers listed above are a good starting point towards training management on the difference between "meeting" and "exceeding" expectations, but a lot more work is needed to ensure that employees are appraised correctly so that they can understand how successful performance is defined in order to reward them and motivate them to meet higher standards of performance in their job.

Kris Dunn

Good comments, couple of replies from my end on this post.

Ryan - I agree that if someone pulls the load of 2 people they may be a candidate for an Exceeds rating. I think a lot of this is driven by the type of position and whether you have metrics to adequately capture that. If you do for a certain position, then overall quanity of production should be part of the Exceeds criteria.

On the question of leaders being expected to do items in the exceeds category, I understand the point. However, when I look at many of the identifiers (specially Creative, Innovative Solution Oriented, Always Learning, Takes Chances, "Zooms", Internal Locus of Control, Builds Teams), it's all to obvious that many folks in leadership positions aren't close to capturing the essence of those descriptors.

Ryan - Based on your comments, what do you think some Exceeds identifiers would be? Would love to hear your thoughts....

Alan - good point about 5 point scales. I can't include it all in each post, but I am a strong advocate of dumping 5 point scales in favor of 3 point scales (Does Not Meet, Meets, Exceeds) since if given the choice, managers will load up reviews with rating of 3 and 4's in a five point scale, giving just enough 4s (sometimes exceeds)to keep the employee satisfied, meaning they never have to have tough conversations with employes about what actually consituties Meets vs. Exceeds performance.

Good dialogue and thanks for commenting. I don't think I have all the answers, but like all of us, I have opinions. The dialogue from you makes the debate sharper, so please keep checking the site out and commenting.


Kris - Good points about the 5 point scale. You're right in that our reviewing managers take themselves off the hook for getting tough (or making their employees accountable for performance improvement and/or goal setting aspects of the review) with their employees in using the 5 point scale. I see too many 4's and 5's and there are too many "soft" graders. It seems as though HR is the the hardest grading department, and it is not that we're so tough, but instead we utilize the process the way it is supposed to be utilized.

The 3 point scale seems to be a better tool for rating performance as long as you have good measures of what constitutes "meeting" and "exceeding" expectations - hence the reason for the article being written in the first place. I'd love to see a sample of a 3 point scale appraisal with all of this built into it. My company is starving for such a working document.


HRCapitalist Guy,
We should all work on our own version of "expectations " and differentiators" - I will acknowledge Lisa's comments regarding the leadership element of the "diffs" - however - driving everyone to exhibit leadership behaviors can only lead to a rising tide lifting all ships, no ? I dont think you mean these as "final" lists - more as thought starters to get us working on our own lists that will drive the desired behavior within our own organizations...but thats just my opinion, and I'm just that Finance Guy in the corner...

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