Have you ever solved a challenging crossword or beat your personal best score playing golf? What about mastering a chili recipe and grinning ear-to-ear after taking that first, spicy bite? These are the little moments of success that stand out. Many of us are intrinsically driven by the taste of these moments because of the sense of pride and good feeling that comes with the combination of personal mastery and achievement. We just want to be great at what we do because it feels good.

But then it happens. We bring our passionate and intrinsically motivated selves to the workplace and experience the Annual Performance Review. This is that one hour each year in which our managers must summarize the other 2000+ hours worth of contributions we’ve made that year. Most of the time, these meetings feel less like performance enhancers or correctors and more like a “check the box” exercise.

At the end of the day, most of us MUST fall inside the “meeting expectations” part of the bell curve. If you’re one of few who fall into the bottom 10%, it might be time to look for another job. If you rise above the average, you might get a little bit more bread than most of your peers (4.6% for top performers vs. 2.6% for average performers according to a Mercer survey). For the majority of people, the emphasis of a performance review linked to compensation becomes a passionless and statistical outcome for which we have little control. Intrinsic motivation to do great work for its own sake gets contaminated with the complexities and nuances of the ultimate extrinsic motivator: dinero. Regardless of how well we perform, the performance review feels like a letdown. It doesn’t necessarily motivate us and kind of feels like a waste of time. In fact, it seems to sap the joy out of work and leads to disengagement.

You Stole My Joy and I Want It Back – Lucinda Williams

So, what can management do to boost employee engagement in ways other than the disengaging performance review? Check out these ideas:

  • First, given that most people must be labeled “average” to prevent wages from spiraling out of control, just call it like it is. If you’re conducting performance reviews as a means to allocate pay increases, be upfront about the realities of the budget and limitations on compensation. Explain how the company compensation policy works. Be clear that the meeting is to cover two things: compensation review, but more importantly, performance. Get the compensation talk out of the way and then move on to the dessert. Or better yet, spend a little extra time and separate these discussions altogether. Schedule one meeting for compensation discussions, and be clear that you will schedule one more performance review meeting for the sole purpose of discussing wins, challenges, and ways to improve in the new year. We’ve seen this done in many companies and while it takes more time, the impact on morale is worth it.  This frees you up to spend less time on the compensation discussion and more on our strengths and opportunities for professional development. A focus on our interests is a surefire way to boost productivity and levels of engagement. 


  • Second, inspire us to feel the love of winning for the sake of winning. Throw us a bone wrapped with some recognition and let us know we’re appreciated. Take notice when we stay late geeking out over a project. Let us know you value our ideas. Apply a little Psychology 101 and positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors and to motivate us to be better.


  • Don’t be vague. Give specific examples of what we’re doing very well, decent and not so well. Just say it like it is but include some relevant examples so we’re not confused. Better yet, become a master at giving constructive feedback.


  • Get rid of the performance review altogether. Do like Donna Morris, Adobe’s SVP of People Resources, who recently decided to abolish performance reviews altogether in exchange for more frequent and authentic conversations between managers and peers. Or, follow GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s lead and take the first step of replacing the annual review by using a peer-to-peer feedback app (e.g. PD @ GE or YouEarnedIt.com) where people are getting continuous insights from their colleagues that they can use to get better every day.

Tell us in real-time that we are valued or that we did something aligned with company goals and values.

  • Recognize our needs by providing the right tools to do the job well including software and support. And, support our cravings for job development by encouraging us to pursue training, online classes or by sending us to a conference. This type of recognition shows you care and want to help build our skills, confidence and productivity. The benefit? Loyalty, engagement and increased productivity.


  • Listen and take note when our peers show appreciation. They work hand-in-hand with us every day and know us on a different level. Focus on how peers are reaching out and recognizing and layer in. 


  • Transparency – Make recognition a public and shared experienced. Why shouldn’t everyone see and participate in recognizing others? The collective experience serves as a constant reminder to all on what behaviors are most appreciated and recognized.



YouEarnedIt is employee recognition and reward software dedicated to fostering happiness at work. Check us out to see how you can do a better job engaging your employees based on positive psychology, authentic and real-time recognition, and meaningful culture-specific rewards.
Ready to learn more about how YouEarnedIt can boost employee engagement at your organization? Request a live demo here.
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Tim Ryan