Archive for the "Performance Management" Category

What Happens to Me When You are Recognized?

by Derek Irvine

Inspiring othersResearch is split on what happens to the motivation of people who see others get recognized. One solution is to simply recognize everyone.

There is quite the interesting debate shaping up among researchers looking into the motivational potential of recognition. The specific question under investigation focuses on the impact that recognition has not on recipients, but on the motivations of the people surrounding those recipients. Simply put, if I see you being recognized for excellent work, will I be motivated to step up my game or not?

In one camp researchers with the Centre for European Economic Research found data supporting the affirmative. In a controlled field experiment, participants were hired to complete a three-hour data-entry task. The researchers found that providing recognition to top performers drastically increased group performance, with the biggest gains driven by those who did not receive the recognition. It was hypothesized that these findings are largely attributable to a combination of conformity and reciprocity effects, as a “rising tide that floats all boats.”

But what if this effect isn’t as universal as we might expect? This is the question posed by a recent study published in Psychological Science. A set of experiments involved grading peer assignments as part of a massive open online course (MOOC). In a phenomenon termed “exemplar discouragement,” the research team found that students who were given exemplary peer material to grade were much more likely to quit the course than students given typical peer material. The implication for recognition in organizational settings is that individuals may respond to the recognition of others with decreased rather than increased motivation, when they perceive an outcome as unattainable.

What do these findings and the larger debate tell us about designing recognition strategies and programs that will extend motivation beyond the recipients to the entire workforce?

In two simple words: include everyone! Here’s why:

  • To encourage positive spiraling of a “rising tide.” Those who witness recognition clearly step up their games, contributing higher levels of performance. Subsequently recognizing these individuals maintains those high levels, and encourages other sets of workers to perform better. Onwards and upwards the spiral goes.
  • To avoid exemplar discouragement. Instead of recognizing only the best performances, excellent contributions across all levels of your workforce can be recognized and reinforced, from stars to core performers. Everyone can see that higher performance is an attainable goal and is more likely to strive towards that goal (further reinforcing the above spiral effect).
  • To measure and develop a more robust impact. The recognition-performance effect is amplified across teams, units, and geographies in your company. With the help of data analytics, leaders can nurture emerging positive spirals and encourage breadth and depth of contributions.

This notion of inclusion provides a straightforward way to reconcile the seemingly disparate findings from the research cited above: by expanding the focus from a single recognition moment to many, and from a few recipients to many. When no one is left unrecognized, discouragement may be hard to come by.

What other kinds of strategies have you seen be successful in keeping a workforce motivated?

Performance Review Redesign: Human and Social Capital

by Derek Irvine

Diagram of interconnected colleaguesRecognize This! – New ways of working rely on collaboration and relationships in addition to individual skillsets. Performance reviews should take this into account.

There has been a lot in the news lately as more and more companies have abandoned their traditional performance review processes in favor of both more immediate and more ongoing alternatives. So far, the Fortune 500 players have been leading the charge, and other mid-size and smaller companies are sure to follow.

Most of this trend has been attributed to a growing awareness that successful companies will need to have systems that not only evaluate, but also develop their workforces. There is also the realization that these processes need to occur more often than annually or semi-annually, and be much more human-friendly to impact performance. The companies on the front lines have been largely pursuing unique approaches to accomplish some of these goals and resolve other common challenges with the practice. It will be interesting to see which of these crosses the threshold into becoming a best practice.

In the meantime, I want to offer a perspective on these trends complementing many of the forces noted above. Fundamentally, human capital is no longer a sufficient force to sustain high performance. In its place, social capital is playing an increasingly important role in helping organizations to manage the complexity and pace of work, and achieve lasting competitive advantage. What’s the difference between the two?

Human capital is captured in the knowledge, skills, competencies, and other characteristics possessed by individual employees. It runs the gamut from tangible (like computer programming skills) to intangible (like creative thinking). Organizations have long sought to acquire and manage the collective human capital of their employees to drive productivity and performance. In this world, traditional performance reviews make a whole lot of sense. Managers want to be able to quantify what each individual brings to the team, and expand that level over time.

If human capital sets the foundation, social capital is what allows you to build upwards.

Social capital are the resources embedded in relationships between people, within and across companies. Proponents of social capital perspectives point to the critical role of these relationships in getting work done: contributing to improved communication, better access to information or resources, and more efficient large-scale action. These are exactly the type of assets that are most needed in solving today’s complex challenges, where novelty and ambiguity are the new normal. These are also the assets that traditional performance reviews are most ill-equipped to capture.

It may go without saying, but… social capital requires a more social approach to performance reviews.

In addition to the focus on improving the timeliness and developmental aspects of the performance review process, companies need to begin considering how best to quantify and develop the social capital of their employees. There is valuable data to be had in the collaborative relationships that employees develop to be at their most successful, as well as a chance to get in on the ground floor of career development discussions around which relationships are the most rewarding and productive.

From my perspective, high performing companies will be those that establish performance reviews that give weight to social capital in addition to human capital, to deliver insight into their employees’ skillsets and networks as key drivers of performance.

What about your own experiences with performance reviews, has anyone asked about the networks you rely on to get your job done?

More Human Workplaces Can Get 70%+ Engagement Levels

by Derek Irvine

Expressive facesRecognize This! – The best competitive advantage available to all organizations lies in building a powerful, positive, WorkHuman culture.

I hosted a webinar with Newsweaver (internal communications experts and software) recently. My topic was how social recognition can contribute to driving a company culture and creating better employee communications. Net of it: how, by making a workplace more human, companies can win, big!

It’s a topic I’ll be returning to a lot as I truly believe the next (still available) dimension of competitive advantage for corporations is to bolster their culture by helping their employees feel more human, be more their full selves while at work. We’ve moved into a new period at work, one we like to call “the human decade”, where it’s no longer enough to just focus on our hands (our skills), nor minds (our knowledge), but we must think much more holistically – it’s time for the heart to become center stage too in HR strategy as it controls both how we feel emotionally about the work we do, and, the place that we do that work. HR strategies that only look to examine the logical, mind focused aspects of employee strategies are missing a vital component of the reality of work psychology. We can’t, don’t and shouldn’t have to check part of our real human selves at the door when we enter work!

So what are some of the items I spoke about as having been proven (through much new comprehensive and compelling research) to successfully boost the “good heart” feelings employees can have at work?

  1. Boost the meaning and purpose of work
  2. Give employees a way to tell & share the stories of their successes
  3. Mark important personal work events in a truly inspiring way
  4. Reimagine performance reviews by involving our community of colleagues
  5. Create a more human focused workplace, encourage great work friendships

Social recognition (saying “Thanks” while mobilizing your community of co-workers) can contribute positively and indeed significantly to each of these human levers. In fact, so much so, that research I shared from IBM Smarter Workforce, SHRM & Globoforce often results in employees having engagement levels at 70%+.

Now that’s truly remarkable!

What could your company achieve if you had engagement among 70% of your employees?   Would that be a competitive advantage your CEO would care about?

Can You Confidently Answer the 4 Basic Performance Management Questions?

by Derek Irvine

4 Question Marks and ConversationsRecognize This! — Wanting to know we’re doing the right things at work is at the heart of performance management – and that’s a good thing.

With the recent news around Accenture and GE replacing their traditional performance review process with more frequent, timely feedback from multiple sources, it seemed Kismet when Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce, had his article “Creating an Effective Peer Review System” appear in Harvard Business Review this week.

Eric shares key elements to create, maintain and support a successful real-time peer review program. Click through for the full article for details on each of the below, including examples from top companies who have applied these lessons. (Quoting below):

  • Reflect on core values. Ensure that the metrics on which people are recognized are aligned with your company’s mission.
  • Embrace new technology. Pick a program that is intuitive, easy to use, fun, interactive, engaging, and fully mobile.
  • Explain and celebrate the launch. Position the program as a change designed to help recognize and celebrate employees, and not a new way to monitor or judge them.
  • Get everyone on board. Managers and leaders need to be early adopters.
  • Encourage frequent, timely recognition. Sooner is better when it comes to promoting desired behavior.
  • Empower managers to track results. Give managers access to detailed, real-time, easily actionable reports on recognition activity, correlated to key business goals.

Performance management is necessary, and even desirable. We all want to know:

  1. Am I doing the right things?
  2. Are my contributions helpful to others?
  3. Should I be focusing elsewhere?
  4. Am I adding value?

Helping employees answer those questions is the essence of performance management. Better yet is how GE frames the discussion in terms of coaching. Per this summary of GE’s new approach:

“There’s an emphasis on coaching throughout, and the tone is unrelentingly positive. The [performance development] app forces users to categorize feedback in one of two forms: To continue doing something, or to consider changing something.”

That’s the power of positive reinforcement through coaching people towards more of what you want to see again and away from detractors.

Are you confident in your own answers to the 4 basic performance management questions above?

What GE, Accenture, Adobe and Microsoft Have in Common

by Lynette Silva

Feedback is a conversationRecognize This! – More and more companies are turning a critical eye on the traditional annual performance review process as the primary means for employee feedback.

This month, Derek Irvine (our chief blogger here on Recognize This!) wrote a couple of posts on Compensation Café about decoupling pay from the performance review process. Drawing from the news about Accenture ending the traditional performance review process, Derek sparked a conversation among readers about why we seem to stick to what we know is a challenged process.

Readers chimed in, with comments seeming to focus on the fear factor as the primary reason for preserving the traditional annual performance review as the primary means for employee feedback. That fear appears to be driven largely by:

  • Legal concerns around how to defend performance terminations without the formal review as proof
  • Perceived inability to defend pay for performance decisions without the easy-to-point-to stack ranking of traditional reviews
  • Concern that managers won’t engage in any feedback exercise with employees without the review mechanism to force the issue

And then Quartz published this news story hit late last week that GE – originator of the “rank and yank” stacked performance review process – is ending the annual review, too. The article confirms these assumptions, pointing out:

“As much as researchers and many employees might applaud the decision, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. There’s a reason reviews have stuck around for so long, and it’s hard to overemphasize how entrenched the annual review has become. It’s the way most were raised as employees, a huge part of their workload, and a comfortable framework to administer and to defend pay, promotion, and firing decisions.”

So why is GE changing their performance management approach? Susan Peters, GE’s head of human resources, says:

“It existed in more or less the same form since I started at the company in 1979. But we think over many years it had become more a ritual than moving the company upwards and forwards… The world isn’t really on an annual cycle anymore for anything. I think some of it to be really honest is millennial based. It’s the way millennials are used to working and getting feedback, which is more frequent, faster, mobile-enabled, so there were multiple drivers that said it’s time to make this big change.”

How does this new approach work at GE? The Quartz story explains:

“The new app is called ‘PD@GE’ for ‘performance development at GE.’ … Employees can give or request feedback at any point through a feature called ‘insights,’ which isn’t limited to their immediate manager, or even their division. Normally, you never get that feedback unless you manage to track someone down the next day, which people rarely do, and only from a direct manager. If you wait for an annual review, any specifics are probably long forgotten… There’s an emphasis on coaching throughout, and the tone is unrelentingly positive. The app forces users to categorize feedback in one of two forms: To continue doing something, or to consider changing something.”

This is very interesting. If we want to help our employees achieve their best work, we can no longer kowtow to the fear of lawsuits, pay discussions or poor managerial practices. We must not cater to the lowest common denominator. We must instead look to ways that people best receive and process feedback, both positive and constructive. That’s Eric Mosley’s message in his book The Crowdsourced Performance Review) — we need both the informal and formal, manager-driven and employee-empowered.

Achieving change and refining a deeply embedded if flawed process, is not easy of course. It’s going to take more and more companies not just replacing or revising the traditional review process, but also sharing publicly how they are avoiding or overcoming the perceived fears as GE is now doing.

How are reviews handled in your organization? What are the perceived benefits or detriments to the approach?

Compensation Cafe: Fair Pay, Differentiated Rewards

by Derek Irvine

Unbalanced beamRecognize This! — Differentiating recognition and rewards for top performers is critical while still allowing for all to participate in the opportunity to be recognized for work well done.

I intentionally stirred the compensation and recognition pot in my last post on Compensation Cafe. With a title like “An Argument for Unfair Pay,” I’m sure you can imagine the post received several insightful and detailed comments.

So, in my post yesterday on the Cafe, I took advantage of the very smart readers and fellow bloggers to showcase some of those comments and learnings. Click over for the details, but here’s a taste of thoughts around the appropriate balance between paying and recognizing people fairly while allowing for the differentiation necessary for the top performers:

  • Jacque Vilet: “Let them have access to high level management to discuss progress and to get help in removing any organizational barriers that are keeping them from solving the problem.”
  • Jim Brennan: The Pareto Principle still applies.
  • E. K. Torkornoo: “Keep them away from terrible managers, narcissistic leaders and distracting politics (to the extent possible); assign them to teams with others they respect, listen carefully and respond to them.
  • Ted Weinberger: I refer you to an article in Personnel Psychology 2012 on “The Best and the Rest: Revisting the Norm of Normality of Individual Differences” by O’Boyle and Aguinis for an academic discussion of this subject.”
  • Tony Bermann-Porter: The notion that you can provide meaningful performance differentiation with a 2-3% budget is fanciful.”

How do you differentiate for top performers?

Our “Stickiness” Problem: Retention, Opportunities or Feedback?

by Derek Irvine

Overcoming sharing of feedbackRecognize This! – Employees need more opportunities, more regular conversations on performance, and more frequent recognition to overcome retention challenges.

“People just don’t stick around like they used to.”

How often have you heard that phrase in terms of employee retention goals, usually coupled with statements about “there’s just no loyalty anymore.”

History shows that’s just not true. For the last 25 years, tenure has been consistently low across nearly all age ranges. And the youngest generation in the workplace tends to stay the shortest amount of time (which is not surprising considering where they are in their careers).

Chart showing average tenures over time

More recent data published in the Wall Street Journal shows average tenure across occupations doesn’t even reach 5 years.

Chart from WSJ showing less than 5 year retention average

This article focused on big data analysis for retention, looking at many different predictors to determine who might live so you can intervene. But, as the article points out, “The big challenge for employers is what, exactly, to do with the information.”

My suggestion is the rather obvious: Get out ahead of the situation whenever possible. John Hollon pointed out in TLNT that too many companies are “stuck in recession mode” and are not investing in current employees as they should – either with opportunities for internal growth or ongoing feedback.

3 Key Steps to Address our “Stickiness” Problem

Addressing the “retention challenge” requires an attack on three fronts:

  1. Create Opportunities – Employees of all ages and career stages are looking for opportunities to increase their own knowledge and grow their careers. They will either do that in your organization or elsewhere. Sometimes we make it easier for employees to look for growth opportunities elsewhere. We need to refocus our efforts (and often our budgets) on learning, development and career advancement for our current employees.
  2. Talk to the Them More! – People need ongoing constructive conversations with their leaders, mentors and managers throughout the year (and I’d argue throughout the week). Too often, we allow the structured performance review process to dictate when we hold these conversations. Frequent and timely feedback, both positive and constructive, helps employees stay on track and stay personally invested in short- and long-term outcomes.
  3. Recognize them before the traditional 5 year anniversary marker – In traditional years of service anniversary programs, why do we typically recognize people at 5, 10, 15, etc., years? Because that’s when the US and Canadian tax laws offered tax-free award options. Tax law is a terrible reason to follow a specific approach. The Wall Street Journal graphic above is the perfect illustration as to why – you won’t capture the vast majority of your employees if you wait that long. Celebrating anniversary milestone achievements is important, but it should start much sooner and occur in conjunction in ongoing peer-to-peer and manager-based recognition of desired behaviors and values.

How does your organization address retention, feedback and recognition needs? What do you seek yourself?

Feedback Is Critical (but Don’t Say Anything Negative)

by Lynette Silva

Unbalanced beamRecognize This! – Positive feedback has more power than negative criticism for boosting performance.

In an article sure to inspire a good bit of negative “kids today!” comments, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article on a “kinder, softer” approach to performance management and the performance review process. Here’s an excerpt:

“‘Accentuate the positive’ has become a new mantra at workplaces like VMware Inc., Wayfair Inc., and the Boston Consulting Group Inc., where bosses now dole out frequent praise, urge employees to celebrate small victories and focus performance reviews around a particular worker’s strengths—instead of dwelling on why he flubbed a client presentation…

“Now, managers [at BCG] are expected to extol staffers’ strengths during reviews and check-ins, explaining how the person can use his or her talents to tackle aspects of the job that come less naturally. Bosses are advised to mention no more than one or two areas that require development, [BCG Partner Michelle] Russell adds.”

Does that mean we ignore constructive criticism, or – dare I say – negative feedback, when needed? Of course not. Here’s the opinion of three people (an academic, an employee, and an executive), also from the WSJ article:

“Still, companies that ramp up the positivity need to make sure they’re not totally bypassing the evaluation of employees, [Sheila Heen, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of Thanks for the Feedback] says…

“Caitlin Marcoux, a senior associate at [PricewaterhouseCoopers], says she still gets told when she messed up. But she appreciates the extra dose of appreciation, which she says has helped to build her confidence. Without it, “I’ll be a harsher critic on myself,” she says….

“Yahoo’s [Chairman, Maynard] Webb cautions that overly positive managers run the risk of ignoring problems festering in their workplace, making for a crisis down the line. Overall, though, the evolution isn’t a bad thing—people perform better when they’re encouraged and inspired, he says.”

The real message in this is all about finding the right balance. When discussing performance improvement needs, it seems most logical to focus on those areas needing improvement – your weaknesses. Yet studies show people are far more effective and productive at work when they focus on work that plays to their strengths and not expending too much effort on improving their weaknesses. This doesn’t mean we ignore performance challenges. It does mean we stop trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

If a member of your team is better at writing exciting materials, and less proficient at creating presentations, it makes good sense to funnel more writing projects to him and finding someone else who has PowerPoint running in their blood to create presentations. Penelope Trunk shares a great example of a member of her team who did this quite successfully by outsourcing what she least liked to do to others who are better at it.

And just because I can’t help throwing out research, don’t forget the findings that it takes five positive comments to balance one negative in our psyches. If you want employees to be able to correct one area, be sure to praise them for five areas they do well.

Remember, too, the worst thing you can do is ignore someone. Employees would rather you focused on their weaknesses than ignored them altogether. We all need feedback. We all deserve to know how we’re doing.

How are you typically evaluated – on your strengths or on your areas needing improvement? How do you typically evaluate others? Which approach do you believe to be more effective?


How You Give Feedback Is as Important as What You Say

by Traci Pesch

girls volleyball team celebratingRecognize This! – Some employees are well conditioned to receive and respond to feedback, but they will still do better if that feedback is given in a constructive, helpful and positive way.

My kids are going to top performers in the workplace someday. Sure, they’re only 12 and 5 right now, but I’m fairly confident in their ability to perform, refine skills based on feedback, and deliver results.

Of course, you could chalk this up to “Proud Mama” talk, but I have validation. Andy Porter, Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute, wrote in a Fistful of Talent blog post:

“All things being equal, if I have the opportunity to hire a musician or an athlete over a non-musician or athlete I’ll do it.  Every time.  … How about those running drills you used to do at 6AM before school so you had a chance to make the team as a third-stringer?  Turns out that discipline of getting up early to practice and go after something you really wanted sticks with you even today.  And it makes you a better employee because of it. Why is this the case? … 1. Feedback is public and immediate. … 2. You know who’s better than you.  … 3. The tape doesn’t lie. (Performance is documented.) … 4. Deliberate practice…

“Now when I say ‘musician’ and ‘athlete,’ I’m not talking about the guy who plays Guitar Hero in his underwear or the woman who’s an intramural league MVP.  I’m talking about people who, for an extended period in their lives, were formally trained to be a musician or an athlete and had to practice and perform on a regular basis.  Why?  Because they understand the importance of accepting critical feedback and diligently practice to get better.  It’s just part of their DNA.  And in a work world where most people are just trying not to make waves and piss anyone off, it’s refreshing to have people on the team who demand that you help them be better.”

I agree with Andy’s perspective. Aside from specific skills, athletics and music train for discipline. Being in the midst of volleyball tournament season with my daughter and the soccer season with my son, I’m on the sidelines watching the practices, seeing the reactions to referee judgments or coaching corrections, and watching how they respond by working harder and tweaking performance.

But one observation I’ve made more times than I like to count is how feedback is given to these young athletes. By way of example, let me share this story from one of my daughter’s volleyball games this past weekend. The opposing team had a very vocal parental cheering section, and not in a good way. Waves of constant berating comments flowed from the stands, both towards our team as well as their own team members. I noticed the physical effect on the girls – downturned shoulders, less aggression, negative instead of supportive comments between the teammates – and this was the girls on the team we were playing against, responding to comments from their “cheering” section.

I’m proud of how our girls rallied. We cheered them on with positive encouragement and comments like “You’ll get it next time, step in more.” The girls offered encouraging words to each other, as they usually do. The outcome – it was a well-played game on both sides by well-matched teams based on skills, but our team won. I know beyond a doubt a key reason we won was the consistent, positive feedback, even when constructive criticism or redirection was also needed.

So, yes, your “athlete and musician” employees are accustomed to feedback and hard work, but how that feedback is given is a primary determinant of how well the individual and the team perform.

What’s the predominant form of feedback in your organization or team? How do employees respond?

3 Things Real Leaders Do to Shape Company Culture

by Derek Irvine

Image of businessman adding color to black and white worldRecognize This! – Effective cultures are proactively created by recognizing and reinforcing desired behaviors in every employee, every day.

Among my list of favorite authors, thinkers and change agents is Steve Kerr. His book Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up? is one I often recommend for its common sense approach to recognition and reward. As the former Chief Learning Officer and head of leadership development for both GE and Goldman Sachs, Steve Kerr is also well known for his seminal article “On the Folly of Rewarding A While Expecting B.”

He’s continued to educate along that theme, using the recent quality and safety challenges at GM as an example. In a Harvard Business Review blog post, Steve concludes with asking why it is so out-of-the-norm and courageous to behave in ways that demonstrate the behaviors the company has said it desires (namely: product quality, safety, transparency and integrity).

I encourage you to read the full HBR article for Steve’s three-step process for how to align your recognition practices with your mission and objectives. I particularly want to call your attention to this recommendation:

“Make a list of the behaviors you are currently measuring… Then compare each of the behaviors on your [list behaviors that you want to see “more of” and “less of”] to the list of behaviors you’re currently measuring. Put a circle around the behaviors you are not now measuring. This is your danger list! If a behavior you care about is not being measured:

  • Your employees are likely to conclude that it isn’t very important, and will act accordingly.
  • You aren’t able to provide skills training (in cases where the problem results from poor skills rather than low motivation).
  • You aren’t able to provide feedback about the behavior, either informally or in performance reviews, so how can people improve their performance even if they want to?
  • You aren’t able to reward the people who are doing what you want. Nor can you penalize people who are not doing what you want.

“Some people will do what you want anyway, for personal reasons, but effective leaders create cultures that inspire and motivate people to do the right things. Effective leaders don’t sit idly by while hoping their people will behave ethically and perform competently. And they most certainly do not create or permit the existence of cultures that encourage and reward bad behavior.”

Emphasis above is mine. “Effective leaders don’t sit idly by.” I would argue you can’t call yourself a leader at all if you choose to “let culture happen” rather than proactively stepping up to shape it to what you know is needed for organization success. As Steve so eloquently points out, real leaders:

  1. Define desired behaviors that support an effective culture
  2. Consistently, frequently and in a timely way recognize and reward employees who demonstrate those desired behaviors
  3. Use the data collected around behaviors recognized (and not recognized) to intervene and reinforce further or retrain where necessary

Culture creation can be a passive event. Successful companies, however, create the culture they want through the daily behaviors, actions and results of every employee.

How would you define your culture? What behaviors are recognized? Rewarded? Ignored? Are your leaders effective at creating a desirable culture?