The Poison of Performance Appraisals – Part II

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

In May 2011, I wrote The Poison of Performance Appraisals – Part I, where I reflected on the concept of performance reviews as one of Deming’s Seven Deadly Diseases. This morning, I was reading a recent post by the President of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, Paul Kuchuris. Originally brought to my attention via a tweet from @Baldrige_Barb, the article, entitled Employee Engagement: What’s in it for You? helped make the link between the inspiration that leads to engagement and performance reviews become more clear to me.

Kuchuris says:

Reinforce success: If you want positive behavior, you must reinforce positive behavior. Research has revealed that recognition is the greatest performance-enhancing tool. It does not have to be grandiose. A simple pat on the back as you do your rounds is fine. If performance is not quite right, you need to reinforce the effort and counsel on how it can be improved.

This immediately made me think of Barbara Fredrickson’s “Broaden and Build” theory of positive emotions, which asserts that the best way to improve performance is to build on experiences that are supportive and feel good:

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that positive emotions (viz. enjoyment/happiness/joy, and perhaps interest/anticipation)[1] broaden one’s awareness and encourage novel, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions. Over time, this broadened behavioral repertoire builds skills and resources. For example, curiosity about a landscape becomes valuable navigational knowledge; pleasant interactions with a stranger become a supportive friendship; aimless physical play becomes exercise and physical excellence.

This is in contrast to negative emotions, which prompt narrow, immediate survival-oriented behaviors. For example, the negative emotion of anxiety leads to the specific fight-or-flight response for immediate survival. On the other hand, positive emotions do not have any immediate survival value, because they take one’s mind off immediate needs and stressors. However, over time, the skills and resources built by broadened behavior enhance survival.[1]

Performance appraisals will only be poisonous if they stir these narrow, immediate survival-oriented behaviors and emotions. So why don’t we appraise people based on strengths only, and help people shift their contributions to better leverage those strengths – and continually expand and broaden their capabilities? This will also help people develop into more authentic versions of themselves, following their natural strengths and interests instead of continually confronting things that are out of alignment with themselves.

Let’s focus on what we WANT TO SEE, not on what we DON’T WANT TO SEE… and see what happens 🙂


  • I whole heartedly agree Nicole!

    Leveraging the strengths of a team is a much better strategy than going against the grain by asking them to improve their weaknesses which only leads to issues of self doubt and self worth questions and in the end drains people of their energy or worse like you said — they resort to survival tactics.

    I wonder why it so hard to create this type of environment, my first guess would be that it has a lot to do with the competitive factor and the domination of left brain thinking in our workplace.

    Focus on what you want — good advice indeed!

  • Nicole, I am so glad you are bringing attention to this topic!

    I distinctly recall one job review where I was given the highest rating, acknowledged for all my good work and excellent work habits, while being criticized for attributes of who I am: Being too perky. That’s right.

    The negative comments came from my boss’s superior, who was a very depressed and unhappy person, and decided that I was too perky. When I explained to my boss that I couldn’t sign a review that had a subjective criticism that wasn’t even hers, she said, “I know, I know…these *stupid* reviews require us to find something WRONG with every employee, no matter how ridiculous it is!”

    Not only are these type of reviews potentially detrimental to the employee, they are also life-suckers for the poor suckers who have to write them up!

    Many blessings,

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