Sometimes, the least productive workers will bounce back the most.
Authors: Francesca Gino (Harvard Business School) and Bradley R. Staats (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Publisher: Harvard Business School Working Paper No. 11-078
Date Published: February 2011
This paper examines the impact of performance reviews on productivity, and finds that feedback delivered on a regular basis, whether positive or negative, tends to result in improved performance. On a short-term basis, though, the impact varies, sometimes in ways that are counterintuitive: Positive reviews, for example, do little to boost productivity, and negative reviews that are somewhat vague and indirect cause performance to fall off, but reviews that are directly negative cause productivity to leap. The research offers guidance to managers concerning the pitfalls and potential benefits in framing their messages in reviews, and suggests there is a need to provide feedback on a frequent basis.
In an ideal scenario, employees would be evaluated through the use of objective standards, but as the researchers point out, in organizational settings this is rarely possible. Instead, the very nature of performance feedback promotes what they call social comparison processes, as employees are informed about their performance relative to that of their co-workers. In this study, employees were not told their exact ranking, or that of their co-workers, but were informed where they stood in relation to either the “bottom 10” or “top 10” in terms of productivity.
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