Rethinking Performance Evaluations

According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, some 86 percent of companies are unhappy with current performance management. The trend has been to concentrate on the technical piece, such as implementing new software or restructuring how people are rated. However, neuroscientific research is proving that an organization’s philosophical stance about human nature is far more effective.

When people know they are going to be evaluated, they tend to default to the fight-or-flight regions of their brains where the capacity to make decisions, be creative, and problem-solve declines significantly. There is very little evidence that shows performance evaluations increase productivity or effectiveness. Most often such evaluations are inaccurate and conducted only a couple of times a year.

Alternatively, providing people with frequent ongoing feedback phrased in “terms of a change in effort, not ability, and suggestions about what to focus new effort on, rather than offering threats or rewards” is more motivating and useful (Rock, D., Davis, Jones; 2013). When we emphasize measurements, such as telling someone he or she is performing in the lower 30 percent, we shut people down and falsely categorize them.

This does not suggest there is no longer a need to address people’s achievement of certain goals. It does, however, suggest less emphasis on what employees deliver, and more emphasis on their development or growth.

As leaders, we can help by providing people with something meaningful to accomplish. Meaningful work does not have to be profound. What matters is whether you perceive your work as contributing value to something or someone who matters.

Teresa Amabile, Stanford Business Professor and author of The Progress Principle, writes that the “best way to motivate people day in and day out is by facilitating progress, even the small wins.” She refers to it as Inner Work Life – conditions that foster positive emotions, strong internal motivation, and favorable perceptions of colleagues and the work itself.  She suggests recording three events each day:

  • Progress made (small) – progress motivates people to accept difficult challenges more readily and to persist longer
  • Catalysts – events that directly help or support the project or work
  • Nourishers – things that support people’s well-being (i.e., appreciation, bonding as a team, recognition, encouragement, and so forth)

Standard performance management systems “often actually encourage a way of thinking that limits the ability to grow talent (Rock et. al., 2013). By transforming our approach towards the human aspect we can create greater opportunities for success.