Unspoken Rules of Performance Management: Talent Calibration

If you have not heard of “talent calibration”, don’t be surprised, because not many managers talk about it. Some companies even keep it hush hush. However, you should definitely try to learn about it, because it is one of the things that may decide your promotions, pay increase, and/or bonuses.

Talent calibration is a meeting where all the managers get together and review employee contributions as a group. Theoretically, the purpose of the meeting is to ensure all the managers use the same or similar criteria to evaluate their team members, maintaining consistency in the performance rating process across the entire organization. Often time, managers will evaluate and assess not only the performance of a talent, but also his/her potential and ambition. Many organizations use talent calibration to decide promotions, pay adjustments, and/or bonuses. When I was an individual contributor, I always thought my manager and my skip-level manager were the only decision makers for my performance evaluation. I didn’t know other managers also had a say. But thank god I didn’t unintentionally piss off any leaders. Looking back, I wish I would have known about this rule earlier to better position myself. In my opinion, talent calibration two key implications:

  1. All the leaders in talent calibration meetings can potentially have an impact on the results of our performance reviews or promotions. Therefore, how to build relationship with all the leaders in an organization or to have some exposure in front of them is critical. We may not necessarily need to impress all of them, but helping them know a bit about us definitely will help them provide a fairer assessment on us.
  2. Performance is not the only thing that is being assessed in talent calibration. Usually potential and ambition are also another two key criteria. If somebody has great performance, but managers think this person doesn’t have potential to scale further, organizations may not want to keep investing in this talent. Even if a person has great performance and potential, if he/she is unable to demonstrate his/her ambition, managers may have a second thought when it comes down to a promotion.

These implications probably can partially explain why hardworking, a value highly praised in Confucius culture in East Asia, doesn’t necessarily translate into a successful career in the US. If we don’t see the cultural difference, and just keep our heads down and focus on our performance, it can actually backfire on us. Therefore, how to continue developing our potential, demonstrate our ambition, build our networks at work, and increase our exposure in front of the leaders are indispensable to a successful career in the US.

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