“When performance is measured, performance improves; when performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” –Thomas S. Monson
While working in the publishing industry Thomas S. Monson discovered that when workers were kept in the dark about their job performance they frequently became average performers, and for some workers less than average. But when workers were provided timely, relevant, and easy to understand information about their performance, many became superior performers.
As Marshall Sashkin explained in his book Performance Appraisal, annual performance appraisals can actually be a disincentive or de-motivator, rather than the panacea they are often held up to be. Sashkin observed that when workers’ performance is only “reported back” annually, they often become suspicious and distrustful of the entire measurement and reporting system. In a private conversation Sashkin once observed, “A manager would be better off with no appraisal than only an annual appraisal, because from a performance perspective being in the dark might be preferable than being surprised, shocked, disappointed, or even angry.”
Monson’s quote has been used for decades to explain why workers become more motivated when they are told how well they are performing. The trick in management is finding appropriate methods to not only measure, but also “report back” employee performance. Regrettably, left to their own devices, far too many managers don’t give effective performance reviews by either being vague or giving critical feedback on workers’ performance. And when the majority of feedback workers receive is unsupportive, untimely, unspecific, and uncalled for, the result can be poor performance at the best, or trouble performance at the worst.
Formal evaluations, such as performance appraisals, often measure job positions in subjective terms, such as, “Meets Job Requirements.” In today’s business climate do you really want an employee who merely meets expectations, or do you want an employee who smashes beyond “Meets” and consistently hits homeruns?
One of the reasons why annual performance appraisals can create more angst among employees than motivation is the subjective nature of the categories in which employees are measured. Workers’ performance must be thought of as scorekeeping, not as a measurement. We measure something to see what is wrong; we keep a scorecard to track what is correct. When employee performance is tracked with a scorecard that visually displays what went correct, the employee can connect his or her behavior with what is needed to win. By contrast, when employee performance is measured to find what went wrong, the employee may or may not be able to connect behavior with results.
Creating a scorecard system to “report back” performance must include ten essential characteristics.
1. The employee must have psychological ownership of his or her scorecards. People believe and trust what they own, not necessarily what is imposed upon them.
2. Scorecards must be based on specific measurable results for which that employee is paid. Traditional job descriptions are constructed with generalities that don’t include specific measurable results.
3. Scorecards must be posted near the employee’s work area. Scorecards place bottom line performance at front of mind awareness, not something that is discussed infrequently, or even annually.
4. Scorecards must be updated by the employee every day, or at the least every week. Scoreboards in stadiums are updated each time the score changes; likewise, scorecards must be updated as frequently as is practical.
5. Scorecards must include an agreed upon performance line. The performance line tells the employee how he or she is doing against an agreed upon standard.
6. Scorecards must include an agreed upon goal line. The goal line tells the employee when superior performance has been achieved and celebration is deserved.
7. Scorecards must include a way for the employee to compare his or her performance against past performance. An employee must be able to see in a glance how he or she is doing now verses yesterday, last week, or last month.
8. When a scorecard shows performance below a performance line, an action plan must be connected to the scorecard. An action plan is necessary for performance below the performance line, and it is optional when performance is above the line.
9. The employee’s coach must pay attention to scorecards and give daily, or at the least weekly, feedback and coaching. Scorecards must become the reason for coaching: supportive coaching for good performance, and corrective coaching for substandard performance.
10. The employee must feel a sense of celebration when his or her scorecard performance exceeds the goal. A goal achieved is worthy of celebration by the employee, coach, and possibly the entire team.
“When performance is measured [with effective individual scorecards], performance improves [because they become an incredibly strong motivational force]; when performance is reported back [through scorecards that adhere to the ten principles described above], performance accelerates. [Employees tap into discretionary performance when they believe their performance is being scored fairly and will make a difference].”