Performance Review Calibration: What, Why, and How

Performance Review Calibration: What, Why, and How


Performance review calibration is a best practice observed by high-performing teams. It aims to agree on a performance evaluation standard to ensure managers choose ratings that most accurately represent the employee’s efforts. Calibration reduces bias, rewards the right behaviors, increases accuracy, and equips new managers. This blog details why calibration is critical, how to conduct calibration meetings appropriately, and how intuitive technology can inform best-in-class calibration discussions.

What is a Performance Review Calibration?

A performance review calibration is a discussion format where managers share their proposed performance review ratings with other managers in the organization. When performance review scores are based solely on the evaluation of one manager, the potential for bias and subjectivity dramatically increases. Calibration significantly reduces this potential. The purpose of calibration is to agree on a performance evaluation standard to reduce bias and increase fairness. 

Conducting calibration meetings is a performance review best practice observed by high-performing teams. Organizations often rely on performance review software to inform calibration discussions and ensure calibrated scores are determined based on accurate data. This article details why calibration is critical, how to conduct calibration meetings appropriately, and how intuitive technology can ensure these discussions are best-in-class.

What is the Importance of Performance Review Calibration?

Performance reviews should do far more than just evaluate performance. The employee should anticipate a beneficial discussion with their manager that addresses their growth and development. Without calibration, the employee may become frustrated and confused as to why their scores do not match what they feel is appropriate. 

The list below highlights why a calibration process should be considered in any high-performing organization. 

  • Reduces bias- When direct managers are the only eyes on an employee’s performance review, this gives way to myopic viewpoints that can unintentionally introduce bias into the evaluation. Interpersonal relationships, recency bias, and personality differences are all examples of how managers can subconsciously give skewed review scores.
  • Management style variations- Every leader has their own unique management style, and it’s important that they do. However, these differences in style can lead to vastly different approaches to evaluating reviews. For instance, Manager A may believe that giving a 5/5 performance rating should only happen in rare cases where the individual has greatly exceeded expectations. On the other hand, Manager B may believe that 5-star ratings are the norm unless performance is below par. By having calibration discussions, these two management styles can find common ground and establish a standardized approach. For a helpful tool to aid managers in effectively writing performance review comments, check out our blog post!
  • Rewards the right behaviors- Inviting multiple managers into a calibration discussion ensures each employee is viewed from multiple perspectives. Though the direct manager may be focused on the performance they see, another manager may have a different experience that should be taken into account. Calibration ensures the employee is viewed holistically, and that review scores reward good behaviors and discourage negative ones. 
  • Increases accuracy- Holding all managers to the same evaluation standard improves accuracy in performance scores. When employees know they are assessed fairly, they are more likely to be engaged because they have confidence their efforts will be measured against a common standard.
  • Equips new managers- For newer leaders, calibrating reviews with seasoned managers provides them with helpful examples of assessing performance well and navigating the dynamics of people leadership. Calibration meetings may serve as a welcomed coaching opportunity for managers with less experience.

How to Conduct a Performance Review Calibration

Organizations have freedom in how to best conduct calibration meetings because they are the experts in their company’s culture and employee needs. The following list includes best practices to consider when preparing for calibration discussions.

1. Determine the Evaluation Scale

There are various scoring scales to choose from but the generally agreed-upon practice is to utilize a 5-point rating scale. WorkDove’s performance review tool uses a 5-star scale, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. A 5-point scale allows for additional ratings beyond just meeting or not meeting expectations.

2. Clearly Define the Scale

Once the measurement scale has been chosen, it is critical to clearly define what each point on the scale indicates. Giving a 4 out of 5 stars does not give much clarity to the employee unless there is an explanation provided for what 4 vs 5 means. Clear descriptions of each point help to standardize the evaluation process and ensure managers are choosing ratings that most accurately represent the employee’s efforts. 

Teams using WorkDove can customize their rating scale descriptions so the verbiage and tone are a perfect fit for the organization.

How Do You Run a Review Calibration Meeting?

Though it is fully up to the organization’s discretion, 3 common calibration meeting formats are used most often:

  • One-on-one meetings- In this format, the HR leader(s) holds a 1:1 meeting with each manager to walk through their proposed performance evaluations of their direct reports. Leaning on their own experience and key business indicators, the HR expert can guide and coach each manager into maintaining or adjusting the final review scores. It is important to keep in mind that 1:1 calibration meetings require a lot of work from HR professionals. Therefore, this approach may not be a good fit for larger organizations or HR teams that already have too much on their plate.
  • Calibration committee with all managers- Bringing together all managers in a single room to discuss performance scores is an effective method to align everyone’s perspectives. In this approach, an HR representative takes charge of facilitating the discussion and visually presenting employee reviews to all participants. The HR leader’s role is to unveil how each manager interpreted the scoring criteria. Each manager should be prepared to articulate their rationale behind evaluating the employee in a particular way. These discussions serve as a platform to quickly identify any disparities and enable all participants to reach a consensus on scoring.
  • Calibration committee with sub-groups-  The above scenario is unrealistic for larger organizations or team leaders in different time zones. Another common option is the creation of sub-groups based on department, location, or any other category used for grouping managers. These sub-committees still determine standardized scoring criteria but do so in groups of managers that make sense. 


Once a format for conducting review calibrations has been chosen, the process should be documented well for future use.

How Do You Prepare for a Performance Review Calibration Meeting?

Before calibration discussions begin, HR leaders should ask the managers what they expect the performance distribution to look like. For example, do they expect to see a large number of high performers based on current business success? Do they expect mostly average performance scores with a few outliers? It is important to note what Forbes said: “.. the normal curve assumes that close to two-thirds of a population – in this case, employees – is clustered around the average. Only a very small percentage (2% to 5%) of employees are top performers meaningfully above (1-2 standard deviations) the average.”

How Do You Calibrate Reviews?

To ensure the final scores chosen are accurate and well-informed, HR leaders and managers must take into account various business indicators, such as customer reviews and goal accomplishment, and assess if these indicators align with the scores provided. Another point of reference is comparing manager comments with their ratings. It is important to evaluate whether the star ratings are consistent with the comments made in the review form. This evaluation approach ensures that the performance scores accurately reflect the employee’s efforts and achievements.

Adjustments to final scores should be made during the calibration meeting(s) as a group while the discussion is still fresh. Making changes in this setting will also help to prevent potential errors and hold everyone accountable to what was discussed. 

For organizations utilizing performance review software like WorkDove, calibrating reviews as a group is simple and efficient. Once scores are finalized, managers can schedule time with their direct reports to go over the performance review, now with even more confidence in the evaluation.

Tips for Performance Review Calibrations

To set up your organization’s calibration processes for success, consider following these key tips below.

  • Communicate the plan– To foster employee engagement and trust in the performance review process, it is essential to prioritize transparency. It is highly recommended that organizations communicate the calibration process to all employees in a clear and accessible manner before the review cycle commences. This proactive approach helps employees understand the evaluation criteria and ensures that they feel their best interests are being considered.
  • Avoid forced ratings– Forced ranking is a calibration process that compels employees to conform to a bell curve and compare themselves to their colleagues, rather than being evaluated against a performance standard. It’s similar to professors grading exam scores on a sliding scale based on the highest and lowest scores. Forced rankings have been a subject of controversy for many years, but they still persist in some organizations. However, WorkDove takes a different approach by advocating for ongoing conversations that address performance at all levels, whether it be low or high, throughout the year. By having crucial conversations early on, it eliminates the need to categorize people into predetermined buckets and enables the identification of low performers well in advance of the review period.
  • Equip managers throughout the year– Becoming skilled at calibration doesn’t happen overnight. It is crucial to continuously prioritize equipping leaders with the necessary tools to evaluate performance effectively. This ongoing investment ensures that when the time for performance reviews arrives, all managers feel confident in their evaluations and coaching skills.
  • Look at historical data– Reliable performance review software allows organizations to track historical trends in employee performance. These data points can help to inform future calibration discussions by looking closer at individual employees’ journeys.
  • Use calibration for leadership succession– The valuable information from review calibrations can be utilized to identify and develop potential future leaders. WorkDove’s innovative 9-box software assesses leaders based on two essential factors: performance and potential. review calibrations foster an environment where managers feel comfortable discussing employee performance as a group, making conversations about potential leaders much smoother. review calibrations allow managers to gain a deeper understanding of which individuals should be developed for future leadership positions, ensuring a strong pipeline of talented leaders for the organization’s growth and success.


A performance review calibration invites managers to work together to give their employees the thoughtful performance evaluations they deserve. Organizations that foster an environment where managers are comfortable with open collaboration and are willing to be coached is an environment where all team members can thrive. If your organization is seeking to partner with a performance review platform that streamlines that process, drives employee growth, and improves business results, contact WorkDove today!