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Not All Job Performance Measures are Created Equal

July 5, 2012

Most HR professionals spend a good deal of time job_performanceresearching what tools to include in their employee selection process, as well they should. However, significantly less time is spent considering what it is they’re trying to predict. But job performance is important:

  • A major goal of academicians and HR practitioners alike is to predict it.
  • Selection measures are judged by how well they predict those who succeed on the job from those who don’t.
  • It’s often the main factor considered when assigning raises, promotions – and sometimes making cutbacks.

So, just what is Job Performance?  We can slice job performance in a myriad of different ways, but let’s just consider two broad categories: Subjective and Objective measures. 

Subjective measures are job performance ratings, typically made by a supervisor.  Because they’re subjective, there’s a lot of variance in these ratings that may be more reflective of the supervisor who assigned them than the employee’s actual performance.  Objective, on the other hand, are hard, concrete data points intended to measure performance such as the number of widgets produced/hour or percentage of sales goal achieved.  Research suggests that these two measures of performance often have different relationships with predictors, and only a moderate correlation with each other, which suggests that they are not interchangeable.

Most of us can agree they are distinct, but which measure is appropriate to use?

Objective Criteria


  • Free from human bias.
  • Can usually be converted into financial terms, making it easier to demonstrate ROI.


  • Sometimes difficult to obtain.
  • Often difficult to accurately, consistently interpret. For example, call centers may collect call length as a measure of job performance (shorter is better).  However, this may be at odds with the organization’s purported goal of providing stellar customer service.
  • Often contaminated by external factors such as geographical location, season, or the economy.
  • Usually low variance and/or poor reliability, making predicting a relationship more difficult.

Subjective Criteria


  • Better suited to take into account extraneous variables that may impact a ratee's performance that is beyond the ratee's control.  For example, poor sales for an employee may be more indicative of a struggling economy or a poor territory than the employee’s actual performance.
  • Can take into account contextual performance or organizational citizenship behaviors.
  • There is more variance in subjective ratings.


Two notable drawbacks to using subjective measures of job performance are contamination and deficiency:

  • Ratings could be contaminated with a myriad of factors.  Characteristics of the rater, for example their goals and tenure, have been shown to influence performance ratings.
  • Deficiency in subjective measures may be caused by factors such as opportunity to observe.  For example, a supervisor may work remotely and thus have a limited perspective of the employee’s performance.

Ultimately, it’s best to look at a combination of objective and subjective criteria whenever possible.  Some predictors are better at predicting one vs. the other.  For instance, cognitive ability measures tend to do a better job predicting objective criteria, while personality type measures tend to do a better job predicting subjective criteria.

Rest assured that, in spite of the methodological challenges associated with job performance, there are well-validated tools available that do an impressive job of predicting all sorts of job performance measures, both subjective and objective.  As HR practitioners, it’s important to note the strengths and limitations of both criteria and to keep them in mind when making administrative decisions based on the challenging criterion: Job Performance.

The Ultimate Hiring Manager’s Guide

Kate Van Bremen, Ph.D. Kate Van Bremen, Ph.D. was a Consultant based out of Charlottesville, VA. She has extensive experience designing, implementing and managing various human resource systems. She has conducted job analyses and created, implemented, validated and managed selection systems.