The Science behind Recognition and Performance

Recognition using Shoutouts has many great benefits such as encouraging motivation and trust, and is one of the top 10 drivers of employee engagement. When it comes to performance, research suggests that social recognition improves task performance (Stajkovic &  Luthans, 2003), but what about as input to performance reviews? 

Given that shoutouts are positive and spontaneous, sometimes the content is less informative than specific performance feedback, but it can be enough to provide context into which behavior led to improved or good performance.

Benefits of referencing recognition during performance

When reviewed as input into a performance review there are several benefits. It can combat recency bias by showing examples of positive impact throughout the cycle and it can reduce single-rater bias by providing multi-source input. It can provide evidence of values demonstration, which is often measured as part of performance reviews, and best of all, it's “feedback for free” as it does not have to be requested at review time, if it has already been provided through Shoutouts.

However, despite these benefits, it's important for managers to be aware of the possible negative consequences of using shoutouts content as input into reviews as it could lead to biased evaluations.

Risk #1 Unequal distribution of recognition

Employees can experience an unequal distribution of shoutouts leading to interpretative challenges in performance. Specifically, some employees might receive quite a lot of shoutouts (e.g. popularity contest); whereas others receive very few or none (e.g. lone wolf dilemma).

In either case this should not be interpreted as high or low performance as the volume of shoutouts may be due to circumstances of their role, preferences and the likelihood of those around them giving recognition.

Risk #2 Recognition not specific to performance

Shoutouts content is unstructured and can include appreciation (e.g. “you always bring great energy”), birthday and anniversary messages, which may not be as objective or useful for performance. This can create “noise” for the manager to sort through and identify which is legitimate performance input and/or which is irrelevant, thus increasing bias. For example, if more personality recognition shows up for females, we risk reinforcing a known gender bias issue with performance feedback. That is, the tendency for females to receive such feedback more frequently when compared to males.

Risk #3 Recognition is positive only

Managers should not rely on shoutouts alone as information to base performance reviews on. Shoutouts are predominantly positive sources of feedback. As such, managers should seek out alternate sources of feedback that are constructive, or orientated towards opportunities the employee might have moving forward.

What should managers do?

Managers should take care when considering shoutouts recognition as input to reviews. To help reduce the risk of bias, consider shoutouts that:

  • Relate to an employees goals or projects

  • Relate to values or behaviors expected of them by the company or their role

  • Explain a specific example of what the person did well

And don’t consider:

  • Amount of recognition (a lot, very little or none) as it does not relate to level or quality of performance

  • Recognition that is more focussed on appreciation (“thanks for buying coffee”)

  • Birthday messages, anniversaries, or other similar milestones

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