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Praise, Performance Reviews and Risk-Taking

Praise, Performance Reviews and Risk-Taking

by Frank Roche on February 19, 2007

in Education, Learning, Performance

The Inverse Power of Praise

Praise works…to a point. How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise summarizes a body of praise and performance research in New York public schools. Guess what? Give too much praise — especially vacuous praise — and people respond by limiting their risk-taking and effort.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive. That’s because it is. I know it’s hard to reconcile that too much praise can backfire. We live in a self-esteem movement era. I’ll leave you to read the New Yorker article. You can draw your own conclusions about over-praising children and the negative effects that might have. But the article made me think about performance and performance reviews. (Yep, I’ve been thinking a lot about performance reviews lately.)

Do Performance Reviews Stifle Risk-Taking?

Does the mere fact of giving a performance review kill creativity? Let’s answer a question with a question: How would you rate two different direct reports — one who took no risks but accomplished all her goals and another who took some big, calculated risks but didn’t complete 30% of her goals because she was occupied with big effort?

Yes, there are a lot of extenuating circumstances. And I can hear you saying, “Well, we just can’t have everyone running around freelancing.” Sure, let’s stipulate to that. But what’s the best way to get a great performance rating? Is it to take big risks? Or is it to comply? As Dilbert author Scott Adams wrote:

It’s important to agree with people if you want them to think you are a genius. For most people, the definition of smart is‚ “Thinks exactly like me but even more so.”

We’re still working feverishly on Get Rid of Performance Reviews Once and For All. This Inverse Power of Praise research is just more fuel for the fire.

What’s Your Take on Praise and Performance?


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