Don’t Worry … “Meets Expectations” on Your Performance Review Is Not a “C”

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An employee’s first performance review can be a real blow to the ego, but it shouldn’t be. The scale on these forms at many businesses is 1-5, with a standard rating of “meets expectations” being a 3.

Most of us have grown up with an educational grading system running A-F, so that middle range “C” seems less than stellar. High-performing individuals aren’t usually striving for C’s. They’re shooting for the top—A’s. Getting a 3 can be demotivating for many employees.

performance review grading systemAs an illustration of how ingrained our educational grading system has made us … My 15-year-old daughter celebrated passing the written portion of her drivers test by saying, “I got an A. I only missed two questions.” If you’ve taken that test you know there are no grades on drivers tests. You either pass or you don’t. As long as you get the required number of questions right, the DMV turns you loose.

performance evaluation samplePerformance review rankings go up and down from “meets expectations” at the center. And when you’re working in a pool of highly competent, carefully chosen workers, “meets expectations” means you’re doing an excellent job. In fact, part of those expectations might be to go above and beyond what is asked. This 3-rating explanation from the helps illustrate that:


  • Always meet expectations, can be counted on
  • Sometimes exceeds expectations
  • Sometimes contributes additional value
  • Does an excellent job, as the job is defined
  • Will go above and beyond expectations when asked
  • Generally positive impact on people and team performance

“In a company of strong performers, being ranked with the majority of your peers means that you’re doing pretty well. Meeting the performance expectations of a company with high standards means you’re pretty damn good,” suggests Dan Oswald for

Maybe it would help morale to tell everyone they’re outstanding. “But if everyone were outstanding then it wouldn’t be an exception, it would be the rule,” says Oswald. But to improve performance and get the most out of people you must also tell them where they can improve.”

judging employee performancePerformance reviews should help you as an employee know where you can grow—where you can more effectively contribute to your organization’s success, suggests They go so far as to suggest that ranking systems and numbers be done away with in an effort to curb negative feelings and disappointment.

Perhaps a better solution might be to understand your organization’s rating system prior to your review. Ask for it. Also have a good understanding of your job. If you don’t have a job description, ask for one.

If you’re still stuck on that 3 rating, try letting your boss know you’d like to be more than a “meets expectations” employee. Find out if that’s even possible. What would it take? Does he or she even give 5s? Many bosses don’t. Once he identifies areas that might lead to a higher rating, set to it! Or be happy just being a great employee.employee performance reviews

Related article: Take the Anxiety Out of Performance Reviews

Related article: How to Prepare for Your Employee Performance Review

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