Try to divide your employees into two groups: those who enjoy their annual performance reviews, and those who don't. Turns out you can't do that--they all hate performance reviews.
That's the finding of a new study from researchers at Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Texas A&M University, highlighted this week in The Washington Post.
The study divided a group of employees into three categories: one that defined success as achieving goals and drawing positive feedback, one that defined it as averting failure and avoiding negative feedback, and one that defined it as learning and developing skills.
The researchers hypothesized that the third group--the one that valued development most--would respond better to negative feedback during performance reviews than the other groups. After all, feedback should fit in nicely with those priorities.
Their hypothesis was wrong. No group reacted positively to negative feedback.
The study suggests that employers should realize that nobody, regardless of how they say they like to learn, is all that happy to be critiqued, so employers might consider framing their feedback in a more positive light.
For example, Satoris Culbertson, one of the study's authors, tells the Post that metric-based performance reviews might unwittingly aggravate an employee. "For a really strong performer, getting a four on a five-point rating scale can be devastatingly bad," she says. "You have to think about what the person is seeing."
You might also consider offering solutions and avoiding negative terms (like "don't" or "shouldn't") in your feedback.
The results of the study should not cause you to devalue feedback. In fact, a Gallup study found that employees who receive negative feedback are 20 times more likely to be engaged than employees who receive no feedback at all.
A more realistic approach might just be to recognize and accept that no one's going to jump for joy over a performance review. That doesn't preclude looking for ways to improve the process, though, such as by reviewing teams rather than individuals.