Good Grade on TestWe’d all like to believe that we’re more than just a set of numbers, that each of us is unique in our own, un-quantifiable way. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses, quirks and idiosyncrasies, hopes and dreams. Employers don’t care about any of that – they want to know what job you do, how well you do it, and whether you’re a good future investment or have grown stagnant.

Enter Skillrater, a newly-launched mixture of LinkedIn and grade school. The service enables people to connect with co-workers and grade performance across a vast array of characteristics (Skillrater labels them “skills”) like “openness,” “dedication,” “integrity,” and so on. Instead of, say, a simple endorsement of skills, as with LinkedIn, users are encouraged to seek granular feedback that shows growth over time.

“We’re so used to this old era of free marketing and advertising, but the new era is ‘prove it,’” Louis Carter, CEO of the Best Practice Institute, the group behind Skillrater, says. Getting a bunch of friends to “endorse” your skills on LinkedIn won’t cut it, he argues, as employers would rather know just how good you are at your job.

Carter cites a study from IBM that shows a shift towards openness and transparency by some 1,700 CEOs (note: transparency by the staff, not by the CEO themselves, that’d be mad) as proof that something like Skillrater needs to exist. By shifting to a social network instead of email and phones, IBM found, CEOs were better able to communicate with and assess their employees. Though LinkedIn allows for the former need, it isn’t currently built for the latter.

Skillrater is hoping to fill that niche. The service is free for anyone who seeks feedback from co-workers, but companies that want to deploy Skillrater across their workforce have to pay anywhere from $99 to $250 per employee depending on the size of the business. Users can only be graded by people who sign up for a Skillrater account, so businesses have to convince a respectable number of employees to sign up before getting a real return on investment.

Once users are set up with an account they are able to grade others based on specific interactions. The party soliciting a grade describes what they’re being graded on, the grader offers a bit of positive feedback before assigning anywhere from one to five stars to a number of skills.

Say I were being graded on this article. I would describe what I did (wrote an article), choose skills applied to the task (proper English, avoiding typos, not making a reference to “Glenngarry Glen Ross” or Alec Baldwin, etc.), then pass it to an editor. He would say what I did well, offer specific numerical scores for each skill, then a bit of advice like “You totally should have referenced Glenngarry Glen Ross and played up that set of steak knives.”

Now, one of the problems with grading people is a desire to couch criticism and protect the recipient’s feelings. [My editors feel no such compulsion. (Editor’s note: Don’t be a wuss. You’re well paid.)] Carter says this is why Skillrater provides a spot to write out what the other person did well before the grading portion, as many people artificially enhance scores and dilute the value of feedback in the first place.

Carter says this constitutes re-training our approach to criticism, though most of us are already familiar with the concept. After an unpalatable home-cooked dinner, for example, we’re more likely to say “Thank you so much for being thoughtful and cooking dinner, but maybe next time cut down a smidge on the cayenne pepper” than we are to scream, “Enough with the Tex-Mexication of eggs over easy.” We’re still criticizing, but we’re doing so in a way that spares the recipient’s ego.

As with any company that builds on an existing service’s core offering – in this case, LinkedIn’s endorsements – Skillrater runs the risk of LinkedIn introducing its own solution. LinkedIn is an established force in the corporate world, and adding the ability to rate and grade users would likely be an easy addition for the service to make.

Skillrater is attempting something similar only instead of helping to improve dinner it’s letting companies know how their employees are doing. Carter says that the company’s goal for 2013 is to reach out to corporations and get the word out, while continuing to experiment with Skillrater and further developing the platform.