Is “Meets Expectations” Good or Bad on a Performance Review?

Patrick Ward Patrick Ward Follow Jun 09, 2022 · 13 mins read
Is “Meets Expectations” Good or Bad on a Performance Review?

“Meets expectations” is considered a good score in all major management frameworks including 360 reviews, People Analytics, and SHRM. Employee sentiment on private forums (Blind, Glassdoor) from employees at large companies (Google, IBM) consider “meets expectations” to be a good rating, especially for new employees.

Additionally, surveys run by NanoGlobals show a notable difference in perception between managers and employees. Managers typically viewed ⅗ “meets expectations” ratings as neutral to positive, while employees typically viewed them as negative.

In spite of the official documentation and evidence, employees and managers typically struggle with the “meets expectations” score.

No one wants to be seen as “average.”

…And being scored that way can feel like a gut punch.

Before you get angry and storm into your manager’s office demanding a different score, let’s dive into exactly:

  1. What “meets expectations” means.
  2. If you should be worried about it.
  3. How to achieve a higher score.

Meets Expectations vs. Exceeds Expectations

Meets expectationsExceeds expectations
Occasionally covers shiftsVolunteers to stay late when co-worker is sick
Does not make a mess in the coffee stationRefills the coffee station without being asked
Contributes to the teamTakes the lead on projects
Arrives at work on timeArrives at work early and stays late to complete all work.

Simply put, “meets expectations” means employees are in line with what is required of them.

If you received this score it means you have job performance that is exactly in line with your job description. You are dependable. You do your job well. You are in line with the company’s vision, mission, and values. Plus, you’ll also step up to contribute if it’s needed from time to time. Let’s use Jason as an example.

As someone who always strives to score highly, this isn’t just my opinion; it’s the standard for SHRM, which is where most HR and management positions are trained.1

If you’re still looking to get “exceeds expectations” on your performance review, let’s discuss what that looks like in comparison.

An employee that exceeds expectations consistently does more than what is expected of them.

You are always volunteering to take on extra responsibilities, lead projects, or jump in to help your co-workers. You fully embody all the company’s values.

Examples of Meeting vs. Exceeding Expectations

Jason is a bank teller. He is on time for work each day. Jason has a positive attitude and provides good customer service to the bank patrons. Throughout the day, Jason remains productive and professional. He follows the bank’s processes and procedures consistently and reports any issues that may arise to his manager. Occasionally, Jason will step up to cover a shift if his co-workers are out sick.

Sounds like a great employee right? And you’d be right to think that; he is. However, he is also meeting expectations. He is consistently doing his job correctly and meeting the company goals. When we take ourselves out of the equation, meeting expectations doesn’t sound like such a bad thing anymore. And that’s because it isn’t. It means you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing as an employee.

Lucy, like Jason, is a bank teller. Each day, Lucy arrives at work on time or early. After she settles in for the day and does her morning tasks, she looks around the office to see how she can help. She notices the coffee station needs supplies refilled so she takes care of that without being asked. Throughout the day, she provides excellent customer service, often going above and beyond for the bank patrons. One of her colleagues needed to leave early for a doctor’s appointment, so she volunteered to stay late.

You probably consider Lucy to be a “role model” employee. That’s because she is consistently going above and beyond what is expected of her. She would fit the rating of “exceeds expectations.”

Both Lucy and Jason are good employees. Just because Lucy receives “exceeds expectations” and Jason doesn’t, does not mean that Jason is a bad employee. It just means that Jason does what is expected of him, occasionally going above and beyond. Both of these employees are great assets to the bank they work for.

Will Getting a Rating of Meets Expectations Impact My Merit Increase?

In most cases, receiving a “meets expectations” score will impact your merit increase negatively, but will not remove it entirely. However, getting a “meets expectations” score doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get your merit increase. After all, “meets expectations” means you’re doing exactly what is expected of you. The answer to this is going to vary from company to company.

A sample merit increase policy from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) states2, “Merit pay is used to reward successful performance. Larger merit increases will be awarded to employees who consistently exceed performance standards. Increases will not be granted to employees whose performance has been rated as unsatisfactory overall.” SHRM is the industry standard source for HR policies, meaning that your company almost certainly follows this rubric.

The way SHRM’s policy reads is that those employees that exceed expectations will receive a larger merit increase and those that have unsatisfactory performance will not receive any merit increase at all. So, what does this mean for the “meets expectations” score? Well, good news! It means that you will probably still get a merit increase, it just won’t be as high as someone that gets several “exceeds expectations” ratings.

How Can I Advocate for Myself to Improve My Rating?

If you believe you have been rated unfairly, it’s important to advocate for yourself. This doesn’t mean you’re beating down your supervisor’s door and demanding them to change your score. It also doesn’t mean artificially inflating the scores in the self-assessment portion of your review.

You are going to advocate for yourself by being calm and assertive while using factual evidence to back up your claims. While challenging, the majority of studies on negotiation in the workplace indicate it’s the best approach.3

Let’s say you received a “meets expectations” score from your manager on the standard: “typically demonstrates knowledge and ability to complete job duties successfully in a timely manner.” You believe you should receive a rating of “exceeds expectations” because not only have you successfully completed all of your job duties and responsibilities, you often do more. Frequently, you jump in to help team members if they are struggling. You volunteer to help conduct meetings and training sessions for new employees on top of your regular job duties. Not to mention you are well-liked by the team and customers.

Let’s look at all that evidence and pull out the factual information. While it may be true that you are well-liked by your team and the customers, it isn’t necessarily something you can support with data. Sure, there’s anecdotal evidence, but let’s stick to the numbers. It also doesn’t have much to do with the standard, “typically demonstrates knowledge and ability to complete job duties successfully in a timely manner” either.

The facts are: you frequently jump in to help team members that are struggling and you volunteer to train new employees. Think about how you can quantify that. On average, how many times in a month, a week, or a day do you jump in to help your co-workers? Give specific examples of times you’ve done this, both in the past and recently. How many new employees have you trained? Have you trained all of them? Most of them? Quantify the number. It’s very hard to argue with data.

You volunteer to train new employees.You have trained 5 new employees in the last 6 months.
You help co-workers when they are struggling.You helped 3 co-workers finish their projects on time, in addition to your own job duties in the past 4 months.
You take the lead on team projects.You have led 7 team projects over the last year.
You continuously work to improve processes and become more efficient.You presented your manager with solutions to improve processes on 3 occasions this year.

After you’ve gathered your facts, think about what you want to say. What point are you trying to get across? What is your end goal here? Here are some examples of things you can say to get your point across.

I’d really like to discuss my score on the standard… I’d like to know why I was rated as “meets expectations” when I … (show your data)

I’d like to hear your feedback on the standard… I noticed my score was “meets expectations”, however, I would like to point out that… (show your proof)

Can you please give your reasoning for the “meets expectations” score on the standard… I have some examples that show I have gone above and beyond regarding the standard…

Now that you’ve gathered your data and come up with an idea of what you want to say, it’s time to advocate for yourself. Request a meeting telling your supervisor you’d like to revisit some areas on your performance review. You can also let them know you’d like to set goals to improve your performance for the next review.

This is often easier said than done. It can be intimidating to challenge your supervisor. Or, your emotions may be running high because you’re angry your manager doesn’t see all the hard work you do. Regardless of how you’re feeling, it’s important to go into the meeting calm, but assertive. Take a deep breath and bring your data with you. It is easier to have your notes in these types of meetings because it helps you stay level-headed and on track. It also helps ensure you don’t forget anything important.

After the meeting, it’s important to follow up with an email recapping everything that was discussed. Doing so puts the meeting outcomes in writing and holds both parties accountable for what was discussed. While these meetings are important regardless, it’s important to know that you may not get your score changed or the merit increase you’d like. That is disappointing, but you advocated for yourself. This experience is valuable whether or not you achieve your goal of changing your score. You will have been open and honest with your manager while standing up for yourself. It will make the next time you have to advocate for yourself a little easier.

As a Manager, How Do I Help an Employee Who’s Not Happy With Their Score?

Performance reviews can be tough on managers too. Oftentimes managers are faced with a difficult conversation around performance and expectations. As a supervisor, how do you tell your employee their performance isn’t up to par?

One of the most important things you can do is stick to the facts. Use concrete examples of why their performance is or isn’t meeting the expectations. You want to be sure to tell the employee what they are doing well. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to let the employee know why their performance is lacking. Don’t just tell them their performance is subpar, give them specific feedback and examples of how they can improve it.

Now is a great time to develop a plan with them. You want your employees to be successful, but you have to give them the tools to be able to do so. Often this includes training, accountability measures, or frequent check-ins. Take the emotion out of it and make this a problem-solving experience. You aren’t just doing this for the employee. You’re doing it with them. This is a time to collaborate and work together. Some questions you want to ask are:

What is the specific problem we need to address?

How do you think we can solve this problem? Do you have any ideas for solutions?

What method will work best for you?

What is a fair timeline for getting this resolved?

Even with the best intentions, sometimes things can get heated. When this happens, let the employee talk. Make sure they know they are heard. On the other hand, know when to end the meeting and walk away. Sometimes it’s best for both parties involved to take a break and try again later when tensions aren’t as high. If you find yourself in this situation you may want to say something along the lines of,

I can see you’re upset. I understand where you are coming from and I value you as an employee. Let’s take a step back and reconvene later after everyone has had a chance to digest this information. Then, we’ll work together on a solution to make this work for all parties involved.

How Should I Feel About a Meets Expectations Rating?

“If you’ve received a “meets expectations” score, you should feel confident that you’ve met your job expectations. Feeling disappointed is normal if you expected more, but your job is not at risk; you simply need to address the scoring with your manager well ahead of the next review. It’s important to remember that “meets expectations” isn’t a bad score. It means that as an employee, you are doing everything you should be doing. You are consistently doing your job in a manner that reflects the organization’s mission, vision, and values. You do your job well.

If you’re looking to stand out amongst your peers, striving for “exceeds expectations” is a great goal. However, it’s unrealistic to expect that all of your ratings will be that. A realistic goal is to have a mix of “meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations” ratings in your performance review. If you aren’t satisfied with your performance or want to know how you can improve to get more “exceeds expectations,” talk to your supervisor. They will be able to work with you and develop a plan to help meet your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is meets expectations bad on a performance review?

The “meets expectations” score on a performance review means the employee performance is in-line with their job description. This score is often represented as a ⅗ rating. While often received negatively, “meets expectations” is not a cause for concern unless the employee is misaligned with their manager on their performance level.

What is the difference between meeting and exceeding expectations?

Most management and review frameworks like People Analytics and 360 Review consider “meeting expectations to be a strong score earned by most employees, while “exceeds expectations” is reserved for those who consistently overdeliver on project objectives. It's normal for an employee to be rated as “meets expectations” in most categories, and rated higher at the “exceeds expectations” level for a few key areas.

Patrick Ward
Written by Patrick Ward Follow
Hi, I'm Patrick. I made this site to share my expertise on team augmentation, nearshore development, and remote work.
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