Employee Feedback and the Fear of Giving a Perfect 10

We’re often asked to rate things–surveys, people, presentations, and even meetings. For those familiar with EOS®, the Entrepreneurial Operating System®, you know that every meeting ends by scoring it, from 1 to 10.

Have you noticed that some people struggle to rate anything an unequivocal 10? It’s almost a matter of principle to them. They say things like, “There is always room for improvement, so I never give 10s.” Self-appointed members of the ‘continuous improvement community’ seem to take particular pride in the rigid stance that there is no such thing as a 10. I’ll admit that earlier in my career I was one of those people.

But over time, I’ve changed my tune. If something goes really well, even if it isn’t perfect, I think it’s okay to call it a 10. If a team has one of the best meetings they’ve ever had, I think they should score it a 10. If a sales team lands a big client, call it a 10. If an employee showed great growth and engagement over the last quarter, give them a 10. It’s okay! I’m giving you permission.

So, try it. Try calling something a 10, and watch the faces of the people on the receiving end. They will light up. The difference between 9 and 10 is bigger than one digit. A 10 recognizes outstanding work that no one can argue about. When you rate something an 8 or 9, the recognition is positive, but the score still indicates something went wrong or someone screwed up. Instead of focusing on the well-executed work that led to a good rating, the receiver of the score will focus on the negative, wondering what they did wrong.

Some people also consider lower scores a sign of strength. They think it signals to everyone how tough they are and how high their standards may be. Personally, I think that this signals something very different. I think it signals a judgmental, glass-half-empty, kill-joy bias. I’m not a psychoanalyst, but we’ve all met people that feel the need to endlessly point out everyone’s mistakes. It doesn’t need to be this way.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we run around throwing out 10s willy-nilly. It’s true that if we overuse 10s, they’ll lose their importance. However, never celebrating success with a 10 is the equivalent of a fine wine that never leaves the bottle.

Let’s give ourselves permission to give 10s. Because while there is always room for improvement, there’s still a lot to celebrate in the here and now.