The Carrot or the Stick: How to Get Participation in Performance Reviews

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Apr 28, 2015

You might have read about it in a book. Maybe you know somebody that knows somebody else that saw it once.

My guess, though, is that you haven’t seen it with your own eyes.

Of course, we aren’t talking about unicorns, leprechauns or the Loch Ness Monster. We’re talking about full participation in a performance review cycle.

Getting over the motivation hurdle

There are a number of reasons that performance reviews get bogged down: overly complex review forms, inexperienced managers, and competing priorities, to name a few. Some can be cured through taking an honest look at your process or through training for your feedback providers.

The largest hurdle, though, is motivation. Of course, employees expecting the rewards of promotion or an increase in salary should not need much encouragement to complete the review process. For the rest, and especially those fearing giving or receiving negative feedback, will likely need an incentive to provide you with the valuable performance data your company needs to grow.

Realizing that is an important first step, but it isn’t much of a secret. However, finding the right incentive, either through a collective reward for full participation or an individual penalty for a failure to do so, can be difficult.

The Carrot

Often, the preferred course of action is to offer a reward for a fully completed review cycle, and why shouldn’t it be? A reward to your full staff is positive, boosts morale and, above all, can be fun.

Whether it’s a $5 Starbucks gift card, a happy hour or a pizza party, offering a fun reward to your employees for their cooperation can help increase participation.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely to get everyone involved. Unless you have a small organization, you may not find a reward that fits everyone’s interests.

Maybe your planned happy hour won’t inspire your non-drinkers. Maybe not everyone makes a habit of grabbing a cup of Starbucks on their way in to work. Ultimately, this kind of strategy can move the needle — many people are motivated by free pizza — but isn’t the silver bullet you’re looking for.

The Stick

If 100 percent participation is your goal, threatening a penalty for not meeting a deadline is more likely to get you there. For example, refusing to offer retroactive pay for scheduled pay raises delayed by late reviews hits at a sacrifice an employee is not likely to make for the sake of ignoring their review.

As opposed to a gift card reward that may or may not be useful, a penalty like this targets something everyone holds dear. Their wallet. Further, the impact is much more substantial than any reward that you could budget for.

The trouble is punishments like these paint you in a negative light and can be a drag on office morale. You may have to choose between completed performance reviews and contributing to an adversarial relationship with your employees.

The Solution

Fortunately, these options are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they compliment each other nicely. The benefits of a token reward can soften the sour taste of a penalty, while a universally-felt punishment impacts employees that might not be interested in your company happy hour.

The key is in how you communicate this to your employees. Make sure you explain the reasoning behind your change of policy so they understand the new stance. Then follow it up with the announcement of your reward for full participation, and give regular updates on the progress towards the goal.

With the help of a thoughtful combination of rewards and punishment, 100 percent participation in your performance review process can be a reality. Further, it can be a useful team building exercise as everyone works together to achieve an important company goal.

In the end, that can be an even more valuable reward for your organization.

This originally appeared on the blog.