Lie 6: People Can Reliably Rate Other People

This is a video excerpt from The Freethinking Leader Coalition, unpacking the sixth lie in Marcus and Ashley’s upcoming book, Nine Lies about Work. To view the full video, read book excerpts, and engage with the authors, join here by ordering the book. To learn more about The Freethinking Leader Coalition, click here.

Most of your experience at work is mediated through the lie that people can reliably rate other people. How you are selected, how you are promoted, how you are paid, how you are developed, and possibly how you are terminated – these all depend on somebody else’s rating of you.

And while you certainly want to have a high rating, at the very least you should expect to have an accurate one. People can’t reliably rate other people. Click To Tweet

But unfortunately, that’s not true. People are not reliable raters of other people – and we’ve known this for decades. The main reason is called the “idiosyncratic rater effect,” and it works like this: when I rate you, over 60% of your rating is about me, and not you. Which is a big problem, because we are paying, promoting, training, and deploying you based on that rating — which doesn’t reflect you. So ratings are a terrible performance measurement tool, because they claim to measure one thing but actually measure another.

Now many people think that by combining my rating of you with several (or many) other people’s ratings of you will somehow reveal the truth – but that’s also wrong. Just like noise plus noise will never equal a signal, bad data plus bad data will only ever equal more bad data. You are being paid, promoted, trained, and terminated based on false data. Click To Tweet

We are not reliable raters of other people, and we harm people – both the individuals on our team as well as all the people in our companies –when we assume that we can rate them reliably.

To learn what people can reliably rate, order Nine Lies about Work and join the Freethinking Leader Coalition today.



  1. Nadia Fisker February 5, 2019 at 10:25 AM - Reply

    So true. Joined the conference in Helsinki. You made a difference. This happens very seldom. Unfortunately. Thanks…..

  2. Shoko February 5, 2019 at 11:48 AM - Reply

    Ah… Is that why people leave their managers not their work? I’ve had different managers over the years and my rating changed dramatically depending on who my rater was. If I didn’t think/behave like their idiosyncratic rating criteria, I was given the feedback to improve. I’ve also been on interview panels and evaluated job candidates. I rated candidates based on my own idiosyncratic rating criteria, which might be right or might be wrong for the job. This is scary.

  3. Yagnesh Bhatt February 6, 2019 at 12:59 AM - Reply

    Dear Marcus:

    I have been following on all the earlier episodes of ‘Lie’ as narrated by you and it looks like an eye opener.

    I began my HR career in Mumbai, India in the year 1991. This was the time when internet and email were not available. The HR function till then was still evolving an it was more of Personnel and Time Office department in most of the companies.

    So when I started working in HR department I was more strongly influenced by the opinion of HR and Business leaders. I have worked in many different industries and have grown up the rank to be in the Leadership role in HR. I can fully understand your views and I can see a strong connect as regards to the process and the way “Feedback” and “Goals” are been carried out here in India. In India the process of “feedback” is more of a popularity contest by the managers. No manager would like to be unpopular by being hard on feedback and ratings to the respective team members. So the truth is covered and the Learning team is assigned to design the workshops to impart the necessary inputs. I have heard of the employees enjoying the outbound learning programs because for them it is a “paid day off” and no obligation of learn new things. The Learning team feels that they are god’s gift to mankind and because of the learning inputs the future leaders are been created. In turn, the HR team takes the credit of running the Succession plan (with the organisation having no clear plans) and boasting of creating the new “pipeline” of leaders. This cycle rolls every year and a few HR members get promoted to higher role (to be read as higher compensation).

    It seems that the entire gamut of HR thrives on these lies and have made a living. I could feel the sense of suffocation but was unable to raise my views because I have seen in one of the US MNC in Mumbai wherein the so-called “Culture” was published to be an “open culture” but the leaders from US did not like been asked awkward questions in the town-hall meetings. The employees suffered.

    I am glad that you have been able to stand up tall and boldly talk about the lies in the corporate world.

    If that so, then what are the truths that should be followed?

    What should really go in the goal-setting process? what is the better way to leverage feedback? What should be a better way of culture building and engaging with employees gainfully?

    I have seen the first six “Lies” and I am yet to see the rest of the three “lies” unfold by you.

    Thank you for patience reading.


    Yagnesh Bhatt

  4. Derek Parish July 17, 2019 at 2:20 AM - Reply

    Thankfully, I saw through the appointing and interview process around the same time as “Now Discover Your Strengths” was published. At a mid stage in my career, I made a pledge to avoid walking and climbing over others just to get to the next payscale.
    Until now, no one has illustrated so eloquently and simply, the folly in judgement of others.
    I totally get the failing of idiosyncratic rating which leaves us with a moral dilemma…Do we employ and promote and reward people for their character and what they bring to work and life, rather than their productivity?
    The ability to “fit in” with leader norms and knowing the rules of the game leads me to speculate that it is no wonder that businesses and companies struggle with innovative and creative practice.

  5. Tina M. Robinson February 15, 2020 at 9:15 PM - Reply

    I totally agree with this eye opening…for the lack of a better word at the moment, discovery. Or perhaps I should say “lie”!? After all these years of so many leadership courses and/or training, no one has ever dove so deep to articulate this fact…unbelievable!! Or maybe most were afraid to say it!? I just finished my dessertation basically on the same subject but I talked all around this “lie” without calling a spade a spade, as you have done here. If only I had heard of “Nine Lives at Work” prior to finish!

    Chief Master Sgt of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, shared this book title with a group of us…it was one on his “reading list”.

    I read somewhere to the effect, “The Military spends so much time studying leadership, rightfully; but why not study bad or toxic leadership as well? Medical personnel wouldn’t study a disease without studying medicine”?

  6. maurten gel how often March 11, 2020 at 6:37 PM - Reply

    Wow, this paragraph is nice, my younger sister is
    analyzing these kinds of things, therefore I am going to inform her.

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