Calibrations 101: Process and Best Practices

15Five's Calibrations helps HR leaders and managers make more fair, objective, and transparent assessments of performance and talent decisions with ease. Calibrations in 15Five make it easy for calibrators to see the distribution of review ratings across team managers and adjust those ratings in real-time.

In this article you'll find an overview of where calibrations fit into the review cycle, as well as some best practices around calibrations— all based on scientific research and insight from customers using calibrations effectively today.

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Guide 📖: Calibrations Best Practices One Pager

Overview of timeline

  • Enable calibration sessions. Calibrations can be enabled in review cycles where manager reviews are included. That is because private manager assessment answers provide the content for the calibration sessions. When enabled, calibrations fall between the 'Manager reviews due by' date and the 'Start sharing on' date. A review admin must check the "Include calibration sessions in this review cycle" box when creating the review cycle for calibrations to be included.
  • Create calibration sessions. Before you reach the manager review due date, you should create calibration sessions. Creating sessions and assigning contributors before the due date will give contributors more time to hold calibration sessions before the 'Start sharing on' date.
  • Manager reviews are submitted. The manager reviews must be submitted in order for sessions to be populated.
  • Hold a calibration sessionContributors hold calibration sessions and change private manager assessment answers. Changed answers will not be visible to managers until you lock the calibration session.
  • Lock calibration sessions. At this point, private manager assessment answers are updated in the manager reviews and summary to reflect calibrations.
  • Managers share review results, hold final meetings, and finalize review results. The 'Start sharing on' date comes around and managers then have the ability to share results, hold final meetings, and finalize the results with their direct reports. 

Best Practices

Set clear performance expectations

To increase fairness up-front, create standard performance rubrics and set clear performance expectations. These conversations should happen long before Best-Self Review time and ideally during initial role clarity conversations- like we offer with our Career Hub feature.

  • Create clarity and consistency across managers regarding the differences between roles and role levels
  • Explanation and understanding of scale answers
  • Utilize scale labels when appropriate
  • Clearly define what qualifies as “exceeds expectations”, "meets expectations", etc
  • Make sure everyone in the org understands the goal of the review cycle
  • Have a clear process laid out and agreed upon before
    • Do we have some talking points to help guide these sessions?
    • Clear decision-making criteria
    • What do these calibration sessions mean for participants? Slightly longer review, potentially a delay between submission of reviews and their meeting with their manager to review results. Some companies/employees may have a pre-calibration meeting with their manager to make sure they are best represented during calibrations.

Use calibrated results to aid in pay and development conversations

Pay and development conversations should both include performance data gathered through Best-Self Review®. Though the pay and development conversations should be separate, having calibrated performance review results via the Best-Self Review® leads to objective and unbiased conversations for participants.

Ground calibration conversations in data

Ensure that calibration conversations are grounded in Private Manager Assessment data, in addition to as many measures of behaviors and results as possible (e.g., Competencies and Objectives). Data has objectivity and when combined with Private Manager Assessment results creates a holistic performance picture.

  • The Private Manager Assessment includes five future-focused questions inspired by research from Deloitte and highlighted in the Harvard Business Review article, Reinventing Performance Management. These questions help reduce bias and can help managers more objectively assess performance and promotion readiness over time.
  • Humans are naturally biased and poor at developing accurate and objective assessments of performance. Most assessments of performance, especially in the form of ratings, reveal more about the rater than the actual performance of the person being rated – this is known as idiosyncratic rater bias. Although managers rate other people’s skills inconsistently, they’re highly consistent when rating their own feelings and intentions. To reduce the idiosyncratic rater bias, the Deloitte-inspired questions ask managers what they would do with each team member rather than what they think of that individual.
  • Calibration sessions include people other than the manager, unlike PMA. This allows there to be larger conversations around performance.

Who? What? When? Let’s talk logistics.


Who should be included in each calibration session (participants and contributors)? And do we recommend multiple calibration sessions per cycle or fewer, larger sessions?

  • Aim to have the same or similar ratio of Managers vs Leadership vs People Ops in each session


Appoint a moderator (People Ops/HR) to ensure everyone in the session has equal opportunity to share their insight

  • How you lay out your sessions is up to you.
    • A couple of common breakdowns: By department, By level, By role, Highest and lowest performers.
    • Base this on your company/department dynamics, psych safety, and logistics of holding multiple sessions.


What information should be taken into consideration in the calibration session? Is there any information we need to prepare to bring to the session?

  • Calibration sessions include PMA answers automatically for the participants that you included in the calibration session.
      • In addition to the PMA answers, you should also review Competencies and Objectives progress when calibrating. Company values? Behaviors and metrics.


Have reports on Competencies, Objectives progress, etc ready to reference during the calibration session.

  • Have your scale labels and definitions handy, as well as performance agreements, company values, and competencies.
  • Include any notes or points of emphasis behind the decisions in the notes section of the calibration session. This not only increases transparency, but can be referenced at any time to spot trends.


When should we include calibrations? For which cycles?

  • Calibrations should be used as often as feasible—if you’re able to calibrate every review cycle where PMA questions are included, that is ideal. If not, we strongly suggest cycles where comp/promotions are on the line to contain calibrations.
  • Calibration sessions are held after managers have submitted their manager reviews and before the sharing and/or finalizing dates.

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