Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Using Rivalry to Improve Employee Performance

Science Daily, Feb. 20, 2013:  Any manager or business owner will deal with an employee whose performance starts slipping, especially after what others see as a “failure” when performance can just drop like a rock.  Counseling often fails to get the employee back on track. 
How to handle this?

New research conducted by the University of Exeter in SE England, Amherst College in Massachusetts and the University of Stirling in south central Scotland offers a simple method you can use to help someone.   The research, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, shows that "while criticism from team members sends individuals into downward performance spirals, external criticism can be a trigger that boosts performance as people try to prove the outsiders wrong."
To paraphrase lead author Dr Tim Rees of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, “Careful management of performance following failure by encouraging a 'them and us' mentality is of key importance.”

In other words, someone on the employee’s team commenting on the performance has little positive or even negative effect.  But being criticized by someone seen as an outsider causes the employee to try harder to prove that person wrong.  i.e., the criticism creates an “us vs. them” situation.
According to co-author Jessica Salvatore of Amherst College. "Our research shows that the 'us-versus-them' mindset isn't always a destructive force -- sometimes it can be the key to re-motivating yourself and turning your performance around."

Co-author Pete Coffee from the University of Stirling said: "The research not only highlights ways to improve performance but also demonstrates the positive and negative impact that encouragement and criticism from fellow group members can have. This work points to the need for people like sports coaches and business leaders to think carefully about the way they deliver performance-related feedback."
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Story Source: Tim Rees, Jessica Salvatore, Pete Coffee, S. Alexander Haslam, Anne Sargent, Tom Dobson. Reversing downward performancespirals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2013; 49 (3): 400.  Click on the title to obtain a copy of the report. 

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