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Benefits-Based Performance Management — 

Employee engagement can sometimes seem like a somewhat overused term. But it is obviously very important for employees to be engaged and to care. A real challenge is getting employees to truly understand why changing their work related behavior is important to them and ultimately to the organization.

It seems that in most organizations, feedback to employees tends to focus on the overt actions that employees exhibit on a daily basis. Competencies such as initiative, communication, accountability, leadership, dependability and the like are addressed and action plans for improving performance are often a part of the process. And goals are typically centered on performance metrics.

Some informal observational research suggests that employees start to better understand and then assimilate their own behavior into actions that make them better employees when they have a clearer picture of what is in it for them. Whether we want to believe it or not, some, if not most, people are at least somewhat selfish by nature. And some are very selfish. While they generally want the employer to believe they are eager to do a great job, they are not always that eager to modify their work behavior unless they feel there is a real payoff of some sort for them. The threat of negative consequences (discipline, termination, etc.) can ring hollow depending on the organization’s culture. And it usually creates more tension for the employee which can lead to lower productivity.

Accepting that employees need to associate how a positive change in work behavior, regardless of competency, can benefit them in some direct or indirect manner will change how an organization views its performance management process. Although the change doesn’t have to be significant, adding employee-centric benefits statements to performance reviews can add a dose of reality, so to speak, to the process for the employee. When employees see and hear how they, and not the organization, will benefit from enhanced performance in particular areas, there tends to be a heightened sense of ownership in the whole review process......there may be more take-away value.


Organizational culture seems to play a role in how much impact the infusion of personal benefits statements into the review process has on employee performance. For organizations that do an impeccable job of providing feedback on an ongoing basis, preparing reviews and conducting performance review sessions, the incremental impact on performance may be marginal. Why? Because employees are already being effectively coached and the feedback about performance is done on an ongoing basis in conjunction with highly effective performance reviews.

But, as we all know, very few organizations achieve that level of feedback on a consistent basis. Most do a marginal job, at best, on an overall basis and employees often feel somewhat in the dark about their level of performance. Based on this, one might surmise that the first thing that needs to be attacked is the implementation of a more effective, efficient and accountable feedback and review process. 

Most feedback processes tend to be grounded in discussions about what the employee does well and what they don’t do quite as well. Obviously there is substantial variability between managers and supervisors in terms of how well they deliver the messages and how effective they are at coaching. Some employees may even view feedback as a selfish ritual on the part of managers and supervisors wanting to get ahead.

But that informal observational research suggests that even a modest level of effective feedback about how the employee can benefit from changing their behavior (defined in this case as actions, performance and/or approach) provides enough additional information for the employee that the message hits home with them in a more meaningful manner. Traditional feedback processes focus on employee performance and goals and how improving performance can have a positive effect on the organization’s overall level of performance. In other words, the focus is mostly placed on the organization. While the organization’s level of performance is ultimately where the focus should lie, creating incremental improvement in employee performance is a great path to better overall performance of the organization.

So the objective here has to be to find the path of least resistance. In this case, the word “resistance” is used in a literal sense. The generally negative manner in which a lot of feedback is provided or the lack of a clear message can lead to literal resistance from employees to comply with managers’ directives. Resentment about what can be perceived as an inaccurate reflection of the employee’s performance or a particular situation that may have occurred could be one explanation for the push back. This can look a lot like low morale or low engagement levels.

Employees sometimes feel that the organization and the manager are too inwardly focused and not focused enough on their well-being. Obviously when done even reasonably well, employees receive messages about their performance at least somewhat favorably. The problem is that there can be a certain level of “noise” during a feedback or review session. That “noise”, as we know, comes in many forms. Unfortunately, too much of the time, the “noise” is in the form of mixed messages, unclear messages, overly negative messages and/or inaccurate messages.

Introducing messaging into the feedback and review process that focuses on how the employee can directly benefit from changing workplace behavior to improve their performance appears to deliver a bigger impact on performance than more standard consequence-based statements. In some manner, a limited amount of feedback and performance reviews may already include some form of benefits statements. But it likely happens more by accident than by plan. The key is to begin developing a culture that focuses not only on the benefits to the organization and the team, but directly on the benefits to the employee as well.

Certainly there are times when the employee has gotten to the point in the disciplinary process that the only real benefit to improved performance is job retention. But that isn’t what this approach is about. It is about instilling a culture that is somewhat more employee-centric than what is traditionally the case throughout the organization. Of course, it's no secret that regardless of the approach taken, some employees will just never get it. However, Benefits-Based Performance Management is intended to build overall incremental performance improvement and not necessarily to salvage employees who may not be retained regardless of the type of feedback provided.


Human nature being what it is, the performance review process can sometimes become mundane and unproductive for some employees. As already mentioned, most feedback processes tend to be grounded in discussions about what the employee does well and what they don’t do quite as well. And, as mentioned, there is usually substantial variability between managers and supervisors in terms of how well they deliver the messages and how effective they are at coaching.

Typically the review process will focus on the hard work behavior changes that must occur. Certainly those must be addressed, but with Benefits-Based Performance Management, the benefits to the employee will be addressed as well. In other words, answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”.

Placing benefits-based statements into a review can tell a story for an employee. Reviewing some examples will help pull this concept together. The following are some simple examples of how specific benefits statements or messaging within a performance review context can be used.

Using the competency categories or groups; initiative, communication and quality of work, three sample benefits statements are shown for each below:

Competency Group: Initiative

Benefits Statements:

- Taking more initiative will better position you to be perceived as someone who has leadership qualities. Good leaders show strong initiative.
- Those you work with will appreciate your willingness to take on responsibility and will likely feel more positive about you as a co-worker.
- Taking initiative to undertake tasks or resolve issues will increase your overall value to the organization positioning you to enhance opportunities for advancement.

Competency Group: Communication

Benefits Statements:

- Improving your communication skills may enhance the perception of co-workers and superiors about how effective you are in doing your job.
- You can reduce your own frustration because you will be communicating more effectively leading to better interpersonal interactions and, therefore, better communication efficiency.
- By improving communication skills, you will enhance the perception as someone who may have the skills to lead effectively in some manner. Good leaders communicate well verbally and in writing.

Competency Group: Quality of Work

Benefits Statements:

- Increasing the quality of your work can help elevate the satisfaction of other team members as it relates to your work and your value to the team will increase. Increased value is important to an employee’s ability to be considered for promotions, wage increases, and overall acceptance among team members.
- Your job satisfaction will increase because you will feel better about delivering high quality work on a consistent basis.
- You will put yourself in a better position to be considered for merit increases going forward.

These sample benefits statements are only possible statements that can be included as part of a performance review or as part of a feedback session. There is a wide variety of possible statements that can be associated with various competencies.

The important thing to keep in mind about Benefits-Based Performance Management is that this approach introduces subtle differences in how messaging about the need to improve performance is treated in offering feedback to employees. It is not intended to be a drastic renovation of the feedback or performance review process. It is, however, intended to change the way employees receive the message being sent and to move as much as possible from a consequence-based approach to a benefits-based approach. Incremental improvement is your goal in using this sort of approach. 


Disclaimer: The information provided above is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not construe advice. Your use of the information is at your discretion and you assume the sole responsibility of relying on this infomation at your own risk. 

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