"I did not give you the highest rating on your performance because you would have nothing left to strive for," a manager told one of his workers during a review.
"What do I need to do to improve," asked the perplexed subordinate.
"Oh, you're doing great," came the response. "I don't give the highest rating to anyone. No matter how well we are doing, we can always improve."
This typical practice, and others, are contrary to our knowledge of employee behavior.
* Withhold high ratings. Rather than dampening effort, high ratings encourage most employees to strive even harder.
As an employee reported, "After I got my 'outstanding' review, I was charged. I worked even harder to prove that I was deserving."
* Concentrate on problems. All employees and all performances are flawed -- they always have been and always will be. Yet, many managers focus strongly on employee flaws -- things that are wrong, needed improvements, faults. These managers apparently think that, by attacking every mistake, the worker can finally achieve perfection.
Of course, managers should provide feedback in areas that need improving. However, greatest improvement comes when managers loudly and repeatedly endorse employee strengths and successes.
* Good news, bad news. I saw a manager, during a quarterly meeting, pessimistically discuss numerous, dreaded things that were likely to happen next quarter. And he listed all that could have been improved in the previous quarter.
Since this division had just completed an outstanding quarter, I said to the manager, "You delivered a lot of bad news. I thought you just completed a great quarter."
"Oh, we did," he said, "but you never want to let them know you are satisfied with their efforts."
To the contrary, research clearly tells us that good news makes people want to do even better.
In short, effective managers gain employee commitment by helping their employees feel like winners.