3 Ways Performance Reviews Actually Influence Performance

People can have very different reactions to performance reviews.

Some dread giving or receiving them.

Others look forward to the opportunity.


We know that it’s important for organizations to collect performance data in order to create and implement evidence-based business strategies, and to back up their employment decisions about specific people.

We also know that it’s important to give employees feedback about how they’re doing, they need to understand work and the future of it.


How do performance reviews influence performance?

Performance reviews can lead to future improvements.

But they can also be a waste of time, or actually make things even worse.


We can gain some important insights from perhaps the largest ever analysis of feedback interventions. It includes more than 20,000 data points from hundreds of different studies, and a wide range of physical and mental tasks performed in the lab and on the job.


They found that performance feedback…

  • Caused increased performance about 47% of the time.
  • Caused reduced performance about 38% of the time.
  • Had no effect whatsoever about 15% of the time.


Why does this happen?

You might guess that these differences are related to how positive or negative the feedback is.

Tell people that they’re doing well, and it feels good. It might actually boost their confidence and motivation. Tell people that they’re doing poorly, and it can be awkward, unpleasant, and demoralizing.

But that’s not what the data actually show.


The real key is knowing where the feedback will focus our attention.


1. General “meta” feedback

Providing just an overall evaluation of the person’s motivation, abilities, or previous outcomes tends to cause reduced performance.

It doesn’t actually matter if the person is generally doing well or poorly, whether they receive praise or criticism. It still tends to hurt performance.



This type of feedback usually only serves as a distraction.

It diverts attention away from the specific goals and tasks that a person would need to focus on in order to improve, or even just to continue performing at the same level.


2. Task motivation feedback

It’s somewhat more beneficial (and less detrimental) to discuss the reasons why the person performed as well or poorly as they did.

What did the person do or not do, know or not know? How did that influence the outcome?


This type of feedback tends to cause modest performance improvements.


3. Task learning feedback

By far the most beneficial form of performance feedback will focus attention on the task itself.

What is the best way you can do it (or have done it)?

What can you do next to learn or improve?

How will you know when you are falling short, meeting or exceeding expectations?


This type of feedback often causes substantial gains in performance. 


Seems pretty obvious in retrospect.

Focus on the task at hand.

When feedback focuses the person’s attention on what they actually need to do in order to perform, they are much more likely to actually do it.




Image credit: workcompass

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