The Reality of Employee Development

To conclude my three part series that included the Reality of Employee Engagement and the Reality of Employee Motivation, I will share one more theory from the positive psychology field to provide insight into what’s really going on with today’s workforce and how to better support the developmental needs of your executives, employees, and peers. Your corporate culture is your promise to your employees. At SGEi, we believe this promise is delivered through various mechanisms and functions represented by how you select, on-board, recognize, engage, motivate, and develop your people.

Right now, SGEi is in the midst of mid-year team member evaluations. Yikes! That is probably what you are thinking, as do the majority of employees when the boss says, “Performance Review.” As a positive psychologist, I believe personal and professional development is always occurring, and performance reviews, or evaluations, are a very positive and necessary developmental practice for your team. Feedback should always be occurring between peers and managers, but annual and mid-year performance reviews provide the context for open conversations between leaders and followers about what’s really going on in the workplace ranging from how well goals are being accomplished to what resources or knowledge are needed to perform at a high standard.

Why do we cringe when we hear feedback, performance review, or evaluation? More often than not, our mind jumps to, “When haven’t I performed my best?” Or, “I definitely missed the mark on that assignment.” Or, “I’ve been so focused on my work, that I haven’t really made an effort to be a team player.” We innately fear the negative comments that are bound to come when discussing our work performance, our attitudes, or how we do not exude the company values. Negative feedback has been found to result in a strong emotional response, defensiveness, and rejection of the feedback. This is one of many reasons individuals tend to dislike the annual or mid-annual performance review.

It leaves them feeling judged and evaluated with little opportunity to take action on the negative feedback. We hope to hear the positive feedback, and psychologists have found that positive feedback reaffirms one is performing well and reinforces that effort and hard work have resulted in positive outcomes. To increase motivation, engagement, and development with your team during the performance review, give greater emphasis to positive feedback and developing the psychological capital of your team, so they will be set up for success in the next six months to one year.

Psychological capital (PsyCap) refers to a person’s positive psychological state of development which is characterized by four key components:

  • Optimism that one will succeed now and in the future.
  • Confidence to organize efforts toward achieving a difficult task.
  • Hope to pursue goals and create new pathways when setbacks occur.
  • Resilience in bouncing back and pushing on when setbacks do occur.

During the performance review, consider how you are addressing your follower’s optimism of continuing to succeed for the team. Discuss confidence and how your follower believes in himself in regards to the objectives that have been completed and how those accomplishments relate to future goals. Consider your follower’s hope when setting new goals and determining the pathways to success. Resilience is one of the most important components of an individual’s PsyCap which is the persistence to push through obstacles and setbacks. As a manager, ask yourself if you rely on negative feedback and criticism to “engage and motivate” your team, or do you support and develop the psychological capital of your team members when setting new objectives and creating realistic and manageable pathways to these goals.

The Developmental Performance Review

Consider the following exercises when developing psychological capital during the performance review to set your team up for positive personal and professional growth.

  1. Develop Optimism through reflection exercises. Ask followers to reflect on a time where they successfully accomplished a difficult task. Fred Luthans and colleagues within the positive organizational behavior field have shown reflection allows individuals to become more optimistic when facing new goals and challenges. Positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, also found that optimism is linked to positive organizational outcomes such as work motivation, performance, satisfaction, and perseverance.
  1. Develop Confidence through accomplishing tasks and vicarious learning. First, after successful completion of a difficult task, one develops task mastery which leads to increased confidence when encountering future challenges. Give followers a variety of opportunities to apply their skills to challenges.

Luthans and colleagues found that confidence can be developed through vicarious learning, where one learns from observing others in their social network accomplish difficult tasks. During the performance review, discuss how confidence is developed through task mastery or vicarious learning. Share a personal example to develop and foster trust with your followers.

  1. Develop Hope through goal setting exercises. Determine organizational and personal goals that are specific and challenging. Break the goals down into manageable steps for little wins along the way. Consider alternative pathways or minor setbacks that may occur and develop accompanying action plans. Encourage your follower to be prepared if they must take another route to accomplish the original goal. Savor each success no matter how big or small. Positive organizational psychologist Rebecca Reichard and colleagues suggest that individuals with higher hope are 28% more likely than employees with low hope to experience successful job performance.
  1. Develop Resilience by increasing individual resources and reducing environmental threats. Ann Masten and colleagues define resiliency as one’s ability to bounce back from adversity. Luthans and colleagues emphasize providing the social support network and a trustworthy culture to develop one’s resilience. Providing opportunities for increasing confidence in performing the job well leads to higher resilience.

Your team will benefit from these exercises by experiencing an increase in their PsyCap and well-being. SGEi believes happy, healthy, and engaged employees serve as a positive marketing tool for organizations. Predictive calculations determined that a 2% increase in PsyCap could potentially increase revenues by $10 million per year. Luthans and colleagues further estimate that an investment of approximately $20,000 for a PsyCap intervention would yield a return of 270%.

Consider developing optimism, confidence, hope, and resilience not only in the performance review, but also through cultural mechanisms and training. Training is a powerful socialization and communication tool when delivered correctly. Stay posted for my next blog reviewing SGEi’s best practices in training for your high-performing organization.

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