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Differentiate, Don’t Discriminate | Performance Management

Dr. Lee Kang Yam
Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

In my performance management training, I have encountered supervisors who believed that their staff are all good and should be all given a high appraisal rating. These supervisors often asked why they should be forced to discriminate against their staff based on a forced distribution.

They misunderstood the situation. Performance management requires supervisors to differentiate performance, not discriminate against staff.

Discrimination Against Staff

Discrimination occurs when supervisors play favourites and reserve the choice assignments to staff whom they favour regardless of abilities or performance.

  1. Good results would be attributed entirely to the efforts of the staff. At the same time, mistakes or poor outcomes would be excused away and attributed to external factors beyond the control of the staff.

  2. On the other hand, with discriminated staff, all mistakes and poor outcomes result from the staff, while any good result is attributed to luck or external factors.

Supervisors would provide more feedback and guidance to the favoured staff while leaving alone the unfavoured staff and nitpicking their mistakes. They will also be lenient with their favoured staff in the performance appraisals while overly strict with the unfavoured staff.

Differentiating Staff Performance

People have different strengths, abilities and motivations at work. They bring their creativity, skills and initiative to their work. There is diversity, and people are not robots with homogenous performances and contributions.

Differentiating performance is simply recognising the differences in ability, motivation and contribution of each staff.

  1. This enables better performing staff to be recognised and rewarded for their efforts - this is the basis for the concept of pay for performance’.

  2. Not differentiating performance means all abilities and efforts are the same; the extra initiative and creativity do not matter. This demotivates high-performing staff and encourages average performance culture.

  3. If a company does not differentiate performance and supervisors are free to award high appraisal ratings to staff, a situation may occur where the ratings will get inflated over time.

This is because high ratings mean higher bonus, and some supervisors might award high ratings to make their people happy regardless of performance.

Is this fair to the boss and organisation? Over time, other supervisors might catch on and award high ratings to their people. When everybody gets a grade of ‘A’ then the grade is meaningless.

High Appraisal Ratings

However, when everyone gets high appraisal ratings, it sends two messages to the world. First, the organisation is a talent magnet and manages to attract a lot of high-performing staff. Secondly, the supervisors are immense talent managers who can consistently develop and grow their team members into high performers.

Based on the performance appraisal outcomes, can we say that the company and supervisors are great talent magnets and developers? What do you think?

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