Only Jesus Gets a 5

I was in a meeting on Friday where a number of developers were ranking in candidates for a position. The rating scale was a 1 to 5, and every candidate, even the ‘best’ ones only got a 4.5, why because “No one can earn a five”. Why is this ever an issue, why have a 1 to 5 scale when your never going to use 5.

jesus_christ_superstarThis is annoying when your reviewing a candidate, but when this creeps into performance reviews that is a huge issue. One of my friends told me a saying from a former boss of theirs when asked why they never get a 5 in a performance review, “Only Jesus Gets a 5” was his reply.

By the way in case your wondering this picture of badass Jesus is from Jesus Christ Superstar a rock musical, with Ted Neeley portraying the 5 star man himself.

There are a lot of excuses to why people arbitrarily limit the top of the rating scale, and I feel if they do that they should also limit the other end with the logic of “Only Satan gets a 1”.  A little bit latter I’ll go over why the logic of this is a bad motivator.

First I’d like you to think about that logic for a second and apply it to other facets of your life. How would you feel with this replies to some important and common events:

“I’m sorry you can’t get an A+ because no quiz can be completed perfectly”

“You can’t get a max credit score, as everyone has made a bad decision with even a small amount of money”

“I know your entitled to a $1,000 refund but your getting $800, why because the IRS said so”

“Amazon order for 100 Canned Unicorn Meat stuck at 93 out of 100, why because who the hell needs 100 cans of Canned Unicorn Meat?!?!?”

If you can never get a 5 out of 5 then the scale is 1 (or Zero) to 4, 4.5 or 4.9999999999. This can be innocuous in many cases, but when a potential raise or bonus relies on it then it’s time to get serious.

So what are some of the reasons why people thing this way.

  1. It gives people a goal to shoot for as there is always room for improvement
  2. No one is perfect
  3. The question or task can’t be completed fully/perfectly
  4. Its my opinion
  5. I want to control costs in my business unit by keeping bonuses/raises to a minimum

Lets go though these and I’ll give my answer to them.

#1 It gives people a goal to shoot for as there is always room for improvement

No it doesn’t. People will very quickly learn that you don’t ever give out 5/5’s and will say to themselves “4/5, nailed it”. You can’t perpetually Carrot on a Stick people, especially in such a transparent way. Lets say you have a goal where a developer need to write unit tests for their code. The developer, by the time of the review, has 100% code coverage. Do you A only give them a 4/5 or B give them a 5/5? The answer is pretty clear if your being honest. How do you get the developer to grow? Well add a new goal (have 50% of your code integration or approval tested).

This is a very easy conversation to have with someone. “Man Sam, you rocked the unit testing goal this year good job, 5 out of 5 man. Now the goal for next year is 100% unit test coverage and 50% integration test coverage, you ready?”

The person has met the goal, feels accomplishment, gets a reward and continues to evolve and grow.

#2 No one is perfect

Correct no one is perfect, but based on that your measuring imperfect people. I don’t know about you but I’ve never reviewed Jesus and I never will be. So based on that 5 stars is the max for a normal human. Now if I do ever work along side Jesus I would be pretty stoked to get a 4/5, as I think he’d blow the curve up for everyone else.

Objectively this doesn’t make sense. If your reluctant to give out 5 out of 5’s then chances are your being to unreasonable. Nitpicking is toxic to a organization and if your getting to the level of “man Tom’s performance was stellar this year but he did miss 2 days in April last year with a blown sphincter so I have to dock him”. It’s time for some introspection, and to give Tom a donut pillow.

#3 The question or task can’t be completed fully/perfectly

Then this isn’t’ really ratable in a fashion like this. Think about a Yes/No evaluation for it. Or 2 stars incomplete and 5 stars complete. If it can’t ever be complete then frame it as “was it completed or answered satisfactorily?”.

#4 It’s my opinion

Your totally entitled to your opinion, but you have to back this up with objective facts. This should be something you can justify within seconds of thinking it and convey to the person. “Sally I gave you a 4/5 on this because you were rather aggressive in some design meetings this year”. This is good, but “Sally you got 4/5, why because I said so” is not.

#5 I want to control costs in my business unit by keeping bonuses/raises to a minimum

You are a bad human being and an even worse manager of people. You should look at a career path as a test crash dummy or as taste tester for a formaldehyde production facility. If the company can’t afford raises or bonuses then communicate it to your people well in advance of reviews. People have a decent opinion of how well they met objectives and may be planning on that raise or bonus. You not giving them a good evaluation and not giving them a raise or bonus is a double whammy.

This could easily turn into “why bother, I tried my best met the goals and I still got a 4/5, time to head over to Careers 2.0”. An open, honest and slightly uncomfortable conversation with your employees can go a long way.

Thanks for reading and happy reviewing!

About: Shawn Jackson

I’ve spent the last 18 years in the world of Information Technology on both the IT and Development sides of the aisle. I’m currently a Software Engineer for Paylocity. In addition to working at Paylocity, I’m also the Founder of Resgrid, a cloud services company dedicated to providing logistics and management solutions to first responder organizations, volunteer and career fire departments, EMS, ambulance services, search and rescue, public safety, HAZMAT and others.