Table of contents

  1. Continuous Performance Calibration
    1. The Practice
      1. Setup
      2. During the session
    2. The best mood to make the most of it
      1. The report’s performance can generate feedback for the manager
      2. Everything is still open for you, and the reports
      3. A kindness exercise
      4. Support other managers to overcome ruinous empathy
      5. Socialize learning
      6. Training for the final calibration
    3. Conclusion
    4. References

Continuous Performance Calibration

A performance review is a process to evaluate and reward individuals. The common framework in tech companies includes two cycles per year, self-assessment, peer review, lead assessment, and calibration. In the calibration, the leadership meets to compare the evaluation of all members of their team. The objective is to be consistent throughout the company.

Why I don’t like it?

It is mixed. I do like calibrations. They are enlighting. It is a nice session of people management case studies.

You hear cool specific stories about how greatness looks like. You learn from other teams struggles. You get to know how people overcame bad behaviors, or developed a critical skill.

However, its main objective is to reflect on the past and define it in a grade.

The cycle is gone! All the insights you could gather from the experience of many leaders can only be applied in the next cycle, and it is frustrating. Furthermore, there is tension in the air because it ends with an irreversible grade. This tension makes people defensive and less open. To make it worse, there is a short time to discuss a large group, and the job of getting the grades defined is the priority.

A couple of managers working with me and I started doing continuous calibrations to avoid the truth getting veiled when discussing it under grades pressure and the sub-optimal feeling that it is too late.

The Practice


Continuous calibrations follow everything from regular calibrations, except they happen a few times during the cycle: monthly or bi-monthly. If the team is too large, split it to restrict the sessions to take one hour or one hour and a half of high-quality discussion.

It is essential to follow the same template and pick a grade that represents the performance until that point. Calibration templates usually contain main deliveries, strengths and points of improvement, and descriptive information, like the level, tenure, and last promotion.

It requires some continuous effort from all the team members. We request people to make an incremental list of their deliveries, making everyone’s life easier at the end of the cycle. We also link what every manager expects from everyone using the manager-report expectations doc.

Beyond the standard template, we include feedback provided at that cycle, which shows how much their manager is acting.

During the session

Someone needs to lead the session to ensure the team covers the cases that would benefit the most from quick actions.

The most helpful thing to do is challenge each other. But inquiring with care (more about it in the following section).

Let’s use this Google 2019’s performance classification and associate them with numbers:

  1. Needs improvement
  2. Consistently meets expectations
  3. Exceeds expectations
  4. Strongly exceeds expectations
  5. Superb

Now let’s use a notation of grade minus as performance in grade, but close to “grade - 1”, and grade plus for performance closer to “grade + 1”. “Grade neutral” is a performance in the middle of that grade.

Questions to do during it:

  • Underperformance
    • Why this person is underperforming? How to recover people underperforming?
    • What could make the 2 minuses become a 1?
    • If the cycle ends today, would the person be surprised by the low grade?
  • Grade fairness and evaluation uniformity
    • Why was someone a 3 plus and a peer was a 3 neutral?
    • How this [grade] plus compares to the [grade+1] minus?
  • Counterfactual evaluation
    • If we had a peer with the same opportunity, how the outcome would change? Does it make sense to have a low/high grade here if it does not change significantly?
  • High performance
    • What can make the [2, 3, 4] plus a [3, 4, 5]?
    • No one is a 5, how to have such performance on the context of this team?
  • Promotions
    • For people with promotion expectations, would we suggest it today? What would make their candidature weak? What can we do to make the case stronger?
    • From the things that make promotion candidatures weak, which opportunities can we offer them to overcome it?
  • Helping other managers to craft good stories
    • This person is in a leadership position, but it is not clear how they are exercising it;
    • I think we are lacking exposing this person’s work impact;

The best mood to make the most of it

Everything can happen as described above, and the session ends up as innocuous or a disaster.

Continuous calibration as a tool depends on how every manager behaves during it. These are the principles to make it helpful.

The report’s performance can generate feedback for the manager

When someone is underperforming, the chances are the manager and the report share responsibility. In the calibration, the focus is mostly on the report. In the continuous calibration, we expect more reflection about the manager’s role and support from the peers to improve.

Everything is still open for you, and the reports

That’s the beauty. The proportion of past and openness changes as the cycle goes on. Still, there will be some room to avoid surprises, stretch and recover. Both for report and manager. To describe the past, but focus on the future. Define the grade, but discuss what can change it until the end of the cycle. All the managers can help you define good strategies for your reports, including joint activities with other managers’ teams.

A kindness exercise

Calibrations can be full of self-deception and hot air - a lack of care for the truth. However, continuous calibrations should be about kindness: an honest movement to find out what is happening in every particular case1.

You want to dig into root causes by performing the questions listed previously.

Be prepared and open to feel guilty. Let others help you realize when you are not doing a good job as a manager.

While in the final calibration, people are defensive about their point and resist being convinced, the continuous should be full of ceticism and critical thinking. We are concerned to find out if what we believe is a high performance is genuine. Detach from other interests on convincing people because of the outcome of getting out with a specific grade.

When comparing people’s performance, take advantage of the non-pressure and focus on the clarity and consistency of the team’s evaluation. Challenge cases because you care about the quality of our assessment. It will generate great feedback to the reports and improve management.

Question the managers as a group to reveal systematic problems: why no one is high or underperforming?

Support other managers to overcome ruinous empathy

Providing bad evaluation is harsh, and the temptation to avoid it fits on Scott (2019) definition of ruinous empathy2. A manager’s silence to avoid hurting the person’s feeling, which end up undermining their career.

Having the support of peers during this moment is fantastic. Not because they will tell you it is ok. They will help you identify everything you can do for your report to make you confident we did the best and support with their acknowledgment.

Socialize learning

Whenever I live challenging people management cases, I consider I’ve improved as a manager. The continuous calibration enables socializing everyone’s most interesting cases with all the local managers while it is happening. It is easy to be wise after the event. It is a living lesson. It generates empathy by placing everybody at the moment challenges are indeed challenging.

Training for the final calibration

When the actual calibration comes, the managers feel confident about the grades and know how to justify them.

The peers help to shape their defense, which is important for underperforming, promotion, and high-performing.


Continuous calibration has the power to de-tension calibrations. It makes it meaningful with a low investment of one hour every one or two months. After every session, reflect to identify feedback for yourself, and structure something to your reports.


  1. Murdoch, I. (2013). The sovereignty of good. : Routledge. 

  2. Scott, K. (2019). Radical candor: fully revised \& updated edition: be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity. : St. Martin’s Press.