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Author's profile photo Lauren Bidwell

Improving calibration talent review sessions: 4 best practices based on group decision-making research

Calibration talent reviews involve multiple managers and organizational stakeholders coming together to discuss and evaluate employee contributions as a group. They are frequently used to guide performance assessments, compensation decisions, or succession management processes. Calibration sessions are, in essence, an exercise in group decision-making. Rather than relying on a single manager’s perspective, they leverage the power of team based decision making to improve the accuracy of organizational decisions.

There are a number of benefits associated with calibration talent reviews, including but not limited to increased perceptions of fairness by employees, improved rating accuracy and more effective talent and business-related conversations. But making decisions within a group context can also pose certain challenges. For example, psychologists have long recognized that groups can result in certain members putting in less effort (aka., social loafing1) as well as a tendency for group members to “conform to the norm” (aka., groupthink2). Fortunately, this same field of research has uncovered several ways to maximize the accuracy of group decision making. The following are four specific findings that are particularly relevant to improving calibration talent reviews.

  1. Groups are better than individuals.

Groups tend to consistently outperform individuals when the decision task involves problem solving, brainstorming and/or complex problems3. In addition to the value of discussion and consensus, groups also excel at remembering things. Research has shown that groups exhibited more accurate recall of an employee’s previous behaviors compared to the recall of individual raters4. It may be tempting to forego group calibration for the ease of letting managers make decisions on their own. Such a strategy may lead to faster decisions, but they will also be much poorer.

  1. Include a group facilitator.

Research suggests that designating someone to the role of group facilitator is also critically important for effective and efficient group decision making. Facilitators can improve the functioning and performance of groups5, increase group decision quality6, and reduce the time needed for discussion7 by creating a consistent and well-structured process. Skilled session facilitators can also emphasize rater accountability, which has been shown to increase rater motivation8, and ask raters to justify their decisions, which appears to result in more careful consideration of performance behaviors9.

  1. A bigger group doesn’t mean a better decision.

Compared to small groups (i.e., 3-7 individuals), large groups tend to experience more issues of conformity, decreased individual participation from group members, and increased coordination problems and areas of potential conflict10, 11, 12. Research suggests that the ideal group size is 5 members, and in fact some research has shown that once a group has more than 7 members, each additional member reduces ultimate decision effectiveness by 10%13.

  1. Don’t take on too much at once.

It may be tempting to try to reduce the amount of time spent on calibration by combining different types of calibration into a single session, rather than holding multiple sessions. Decision making tends to be both faster and more accurate when the group is focused on clearly defined criteria and outcomes6. Simplifying the nature of the decision being made (i.e., splitting calibration into various sessions with specific focuses) can also result in less confusion and potential conflict within the group. Expanding group sessions to focus on multiple things such as looking at both performance and potential may seem tempting. But doing so may not only undermine the accuracy of the group decisions, but may actually take longer.

Calibration sessions offer a means for improving the fairness, accuracy, efficiency and overall value associated with talent reviews. But to reap the benefits, calibration must be done well. And to conduct calibration well, organizations must carefully think through the details associated with its process. We hope the four findings from group decision-making research described here provided you with some new and useful information that can be used to improve existing systems, and gain the most value from using calibration as possible.

To access a new white paper, “Total Workforce Performance Management: Using talent calibration to effectively manage the reality that all employees are valuable but some employees are more valuable than others” and to learn how SAP SuccessFactors can help organizations use calibration effectively, visit here. You can also learn more from customers and experts at SuccessConnect in Las Vegas taking place August 29-31 at The Cosmopolitan.


  1. Latane et al (1979) as cited in Kerr, N., & Tindale, R. (2003). Group Performance and Decision Making. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 623-655.
  2. Janis, I. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascos (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin
  3. Hill, 1982
  4. Martell, R., & Borg, M. (1993). A comparison of the behavioral rating accuracy of groups and individuals. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78(1), 43-50.
  5. Schwarz, R. (1994). The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches (Revised Edition) Jossey-Bass, 2002, 1-432.
  6. Janjua, S. (2012). 7 best practices for effective group decision making. Philosophy IB. (
  7. Kravitz, D., & Balzer, W. (1992). Context effects in performance appraisal: A methodological critique and empirical study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77, 24-31.
  8. Bretz, R.D., Milkovich, G.T., & Read, W. (1992). The current state of performance appraisal research and practice: Concerns, directions and implications. Centre for Advanced Human Resource Studies.
  9. Williams, K.J., DeNisi, A.S., & Cafferty, T.P. (1985). The role of appraisal purpose: Effects of purpose on information acquisition and utilization. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 35, 314-339.
  10. Forsyth, D.R. (2009). Group dynamics (5th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  11. Asch, 1951 as cited in Farmer, S., & Roth, J. (1998). Conflict-handling behavior in work groups: Effects of group structure, decision processes, and time. Small Group Research, 29(6), 669-713.
  12. Steiner, I.D. (1972). Group processes and productivity. New York: Academic Press.
  13. Blenko, M., Rogers, P., & Mankins, M. (2010). Decide and deliver: Five steps to breakthrough performance in your organization. Bain & Company, Inc.

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      Author's profile photo Kun Liu
      Kun Liu

      Thanks for your blog.