Understanding Rating Distortion


When analyzing the case study by Aguinis (2013), one can note that intentional rating distortion is obvious due to Demetri’s initiative to employ the graduates of his university as new engineers. In this case, rating inflation is a problem since the main character shows condescending ratings to most employees. The current situation in Expert Engineering Inc., the company under consideration, did not imply the need for such a large number of specialists from one educational establishment. Therefore, the actions of Demetri, who became principal recently, allow talking about his bias and intentional rational distortion.

Theory of Motivation

To identify the key factors that can explain Demetri’s behavior, an appropriate concept may be involved. In particular, Van Geert et al. (2016) cite a theory of motivation based on three criteria – valence, instrumentality, and expectancy. These factors may be considered potential drivers of the intentional rating distortion in question and analyzed from the perspective of their effect on the principal’s biased decision.

Factor of Valence

Given the characteristics of all three factors, one can argue that the criterion of valence is not acceptable. Based on the case described by Aguinis (2013), the company where Demetri works as a principal does not experience significant operational challenges. In addition, over the years, the organization has adhered to effective and reasonable methods for evaluating the activities of employees, which also contradicts the factor under consideration.

As Van Geert et al. (2016) state, valence involves an affective reaction to specific results of activities. Regarding the case study analyzed, Demetri had no prerequisites for hiring the graduates of his university due to an unexpected situation that would justify such a decision. Moreover, in his company, the principles of favoritism have always been condemned, and inappropriate forms of appraisal are suppressed. Therefore, valence cannot be used as a factor of intentional rating distortion in this case.

Factor of Instrumentality

The factor of instrumentality fits into the case under consideration and may help explain Demetri’s behavior. According to Van Geert et al. (2016), if a person believes that the act performed by him or her can lead to a specific result, regardless of the ethics of this act, this is the basis for intentional rating distortion. Demetri himself went to the post of principal for many years and worked diligently in order to obtain a leadership position. As a result, while having data on the specifics of education at his native university and relying on his personal experience, the manager decided to hire new employees with the same academic background in the hope of a similar approach to work. This explanation is suitable for involving the factor of instrumentality as a potential rating distortion driver.

Factor of Expectancy

Finally, the criterion of expectancy can also be utilized as an explanation for Demetri’s act, although to a lesser extent than in the case of instrumentality. Van Geert et al. (2016) remark that this factor arises when there is no confidence in a specific performer. In this case, as Aguinis (2013) notes, the initiative to promote new employees came from the manager himself, and nine specialists were involved. This proves that Demetri did not count on a specific worker and relied on general rather than individual favoritism.

In addition to the aforementioned factors, more criteria for intentional rating distortion may be cited, which are not specific theories but can also be significant drivers. For instance, a cultural aspect should be considered when an employee evaluates a specific task or person from the perspective of personal experience. Cognitive abilities, as Van Geert et al. (2016) state, are another factor that can also influence the decision-making process. As a result, both general theoretical and particular cases may be considered in the context of the presented case.

In order to minimize the consequences of the intentional rating distortion in question and prevent the development of its premises, appropriate interventions may be developed and implemented. Existing approaches differ in the degree of impact and objectives that specific solutions can help implement. For instance, the principle of rationale may enable raters to explain their specific decisions, thereby calling them to additional responsibility.

As a milder measure, the provision of incentives to perform correct ratings may be suggested, which, however, may not have the desired effect in the case under consideration. According to Aguinis (2013), Demetri is the firm’s principal, and his subordinates do not have the power to assign bonuses and other incentives to him for an unbiased appraisal activity. As a result, other interventions can be valuable in this case.

Eliminating Negative Consequences of Accurate Rating

In order to prevent intentional rating distortion, it is essential to understand the reasons for such an action. As one of the prevention strategies, Park (2017) suggests focusing on the negative effects of accurate ratings to rid raters of the desire to be biased. In other words, even appraisal accuracy can have undesirable totals that encourage distortion. For instance, if Demetri, the character of the case presented by Aguinis (2013), faced stable low production results performed by his employees, this would be a reason for him to attract other specialists from his university. This decision is biased, but it explains the desire of the manager to increase productivity in the company, despite rating distortion.

Corresponding Feedback

As another intervention to prevent intentional rating distortion, raters should receive feedback from their colleagues regularly. This does not mean that subordinates can point out mistakes that the management makes and show open discontent with the current regime. However, according to Park (2017), appraisal effectiveness is a criterion that largely depends on productive interaction and the exchange of views in the team.

If a manager has information about how employees perceive specific ratings, this will be an objective justification for him or her in support or elimination of the chosen strategy. In relation to the case study proposed by Aguinis (2013), Demetri could also take advantage of this practice. He probably was not satisfied with some performance indicators; otherwise, he would not have shown favoritism so openly. If he had discussed growth and development opportunities with his colleagues and obtained their opinions on operational activities, the situation with intentional rating distortion could have been avoided. Therefore, timely communication can help prevent the problem in question and minimize its consequences.


The intentional rating distortion shown by Demetri is an obvious and unacceptable phenomenon in the case in question. Some special factors may be considered as problem drivers, in particular, valence, instrumentality, and expectancy, although instrumentality causes the strongest effect. Such solutions as eliminating negative consequences of accurate ratings and obtaining feedback can help prevent appraisal distortion in the team and increase the productivity of communication among colleagues.


Aguinis, H. (2013). Performance management (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Park, S. (2017). Motivating raters through work design: Applying the job characteristics model to the performance appraisal context. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1287320. Web.

Van Geert, E., Orhon, A., Cioca, I. A., Mamede, R., Golušin, S., Hubená, B., & Morillo, D. (2016). Study protocol on intentional distortion in personality assessment: Relationship with the test format, culture, and cognitive ability. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 933. Web.

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