Kathy and Tom have reached an impasse. They are both managers in a financial services firm who have been tasked with deciding which of two employees should receive a promotion. They are close colleagues who should have been able to easily come to an agreement. However, after an hour’s discussion, they are no closer to reaching a conclusion. Each is advocating for a different person, and each has tried in vain to convince the other. The reason for the impasse is that they failed to appreciate that when we want to make judgments about people or things, we need to start with criteria.
What Is a Criterion?
A criterion is a baseline or standard against which to judge something. With employees, it defines what we mean by good versus bad job performance. For some jobs, a criterion can be concrete and easily quantified, such as monthly sales for a sales associate. For other jobs, the criterion can be more abstract and difficult to clearly assess. For example, one criterion for a teacher might be to inspire students. Coming up with a straightforward way to know how well a teacher inspires would be more difficult than counting sales.
Start with Criteria
Where Kathy and Tom went wrong is that they failed to first define their criterion or criteria (there can be more than one) that should serve as the basis for evaluating promotion candidates. Some possibilities include
- Performance in the current position
- Length of tenure on the job
- How well the person gets along with supervisors
- Leadership potential
Each of these criteria could be measured and used as the basis for making a decision. If Kathy and Tom decided in advance to base the decision on current performance, an examination of performance records would have made their job far easier.
It’s Not Just about Employees
Criteria are an important tool for evaluating people and things both for work and nonwork issues. They are helpful for many situations including deciding
- Which applicants to hire
- How best to market a product
- Which automobile brand to purchase
- Which candidate to vote for
Criteria Are about Evidence Based Decisions
Criteria enable evidence-based decision making by focusing attention on important aspects of choices, rather than going by intuition and gut feelings. It begins by identifying important aspects or outcomes, and figuring out the best way to assess them. Kathy and Tom should first decide on criteria that serve as a basis for their decision, and then figure out how best to assess those criteria. When you start with criteria, you increase your chances of making good decisions.
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