Navigation SearchNavigation ContactNavigation Products
Leader Pulse
Leadership ideas, trends, and smarts

What Does It Take to Be a Jedi in Managing Performance?

By Vykinta Kligyte, Ph.D.

As a keen participant at the Star Wars themed Grapevine event, “HR Strikes Back”, held in London this March, I was intensely scribbling speakers’ ideas on a Star Wars branded notepad while a Yoda table ornament stared at me with his wise, plastic eyes. The force in the room was electric with high level HR professionals from a variety of industries discussing learnings from their Talent Management initiatives.

Star WarsDuring the session on Performance Management, HR Jedis gave up their light-sabers and slowly started moving towards the exits when the word ‘measurement’ appeared on the screen. The speakers still bravely tackled the concept of evaluating performance and the importance of metrics to driving organizational success. Some speakers attempted to navigate this asteroid field by openly challenging the concept of a metrics driven performance management approach by emphasizing the value of ongoing coaching, only to be rebuffed by the phrase “What does not get measured does not get executed”. Considering the importance of employee engagement and adhering to organizational values, discussed in the morning sessions, I wondered how could we, as leaders, drive innovation and citizenship (i.e., extra-role) behaviours that contribute to another critical aspect of organizational life – CULTURE? Does it have to be measured?

There is an ongoing debate in Talent Management circles around whether measuring innovation and citizenship behaviours motivates or, on the contrary, demotivates employees by negatively affecting their engagement in those activities; a phenomenon known as the over-justification effect. Some researchers argue that applying the extrinsic motivation of measurement and associated rewards can ultimately depress intrinsic goals, driven by sheer curiosity, enjoyment, and learning or personal challenge. I have asked a number of colleagues and clients who consistently offer to help team members with professional and personal challenges, voluntarily mentor and coach others, or work on complex creative projects, “Why do you do that?” And the unanimous answer is: “I just love doing it!” The moment organizations list these expectations on an Excel spreadsheet in a system, it becomes a mandated and subsequently rewarded organizational behaviour which can easily take the fun out of things.

Why does the over-justification effect occur? One possible explanation is that employees view external reinforcement as a coercive power. They feel like they are being mandated or “bribed” with hope of a reward into performing the expected behaviour. It creates a notion that they are doing it for the purpose of obtaining this external reinforcement rather than for their own enjoyment of the task or activity.

In a meta-analysis, Edward Deci and colleagues synthesized results from 128 controlled experiments and outlined the negative effects of external reinforcement and objective incentives on intrinsic motivation. These effects were particularly strong when the tasks were interesting or enjoyable rather than boring or meaningless. When rewards were tangible and foreseeable, intrinsic motivation decreased by 36%. Furthermore, Yoon Jik Cho and Perry’s study, which analyzed 200,000 U.S. public sector employees, showed that employees who were intrinsically motivated were three times more engaged than their extrinsically motivated counterparts. In summary, we are more likely to like our jobs if we focus on the work itself rather than external reinforcement and rewards. So what is the solution?

First, let’s stop worrying so much about “WHATs” and focus more on “HOWs”. Performance review is an opportunity to share insights and lessons learned. Leaders should devote time and truly listen to what their employees have engaged in and/or achieved. It is important to understand how they approach and solve problems and what has worked or hasn’t worked and why. It is an opportunity to encourage learning orientation and capitalize on intrinsic motivation. Instead of emphasizing the outcome, the leaders may want to focus on the effort involved.

Second, although mid-year and annual performance review conversations can be productive and motivating, employees require ongoing, specific and timely feedback, focused on both reinforcing their strengths and outlining growth opportunities. Feedback is usually more effective when requested. Leaders should attempt to create a work environment in which their team members feel comfortable asking, "How do you think I’m doing?" If coaching and feedback occur in a timely and consistent fashion, performance reviews can change the emphasis from metrics driven evaluation (which drives organizational and administrative decisions) to more development and career pathing/advancement focused discussions which are typically perceived by employees as highly valuable and empowering.

Third, even if employees do feel most engaged and creative when motivated primarily by their own interest and not by external reinforcement, they still desire acknowledgment. Based on Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People, people in general, creative or not, don’t just want praise for the work they do, they desperately crave it! They may not expect a bonus or salary increase to do a good job, but they definitely need a pat on the back for a job well done. Therefore, leaders should strive to create a culture where both individual and team successes and effort are celebrated and shared, not only across the team but across various departments and organization wide. Some multinational organizations are using Sharepoint sites to collect STARs (examples of behaviours which include the Situation/Task – Action – Result) for associates’ accomplishments that demonstrate organizational value, extra-role behaviour, and/or skill.

In summary, it will not be the accuracy of the metrics that will solve motivation, engagement and performance issues. The greatest organizational cause for employee disengagement is lack of leadership competence. Therefore, as you are working hard to improve your organization’s performance management system, you may also want to invest in enhancing your manager’s coaching, delegation and empowerment capabilities. As Darth Vader says, “The force may be with you, but it takes much more to be a Jedi”.

Vykinta Kligyte, Ph.D., is a senior consultant at DDI in the UK.

Posted: 21 Mar, 2014,
Talk to an Expert: What Does It Take to Be a Jedi in Managing Performance?
* Denotes required field
 Security code