The 3-Letter Word That Will Improve Your Performance Reviews, Big Time

July 20, 2017

Adding the word "yet" to your performance reviews can instill a growth mindset into your employees, instead of a fixed mindset.

In the world of performance reviews, there’s arguably no word more powerful than “yet.”

A quick story, told by Carol Dweck in her TED Talk, The Power of Yet. There was a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain amount of courses to graduate. If they don't pass a course, instead of getting the grade of F, at this high school they got the grade “not yet.”

After doing this, the high school saw a precipitous increase in high school graduation rates.

“If you get a failing grade, you think ‘I’m nothing, I’m nowhere’,” Dweck said. “But if you get the grade ‘not yet’, you understand you are on a learning curve.”

In other words, most ratings reinforce a fixed mindset: you are bad in this area, you are good in that area. By adding in “yet”, you reinforce a growth mindset. Yes, you are not at expectations today. But, with work, you can get there.

How this applies to performance reviews

What’s the goal of performance reviews, really?

Sure, part of it is to determine compensation and to identify the top performers at your organization, which you can start building around. But another big part is it’s a time to give feedback to your employees, which should theoretically help them improve.

So the last thing you want a low-performing employee to think is they can't be good at their job – but that’s exactly how many ratings are received. For example, if an employee gets the rating “below expectations” in their sales job, many will interpret that as they aren’t good at sales.

But, say that salesperson received the rating “not at expectations yet.” It conveys a different message: you aren’t great at sales right now, but by improving some things, you’ll become a sales rockstar.

“That shift signifies that the person has potential and the organization has faith that they can improve,” L&D Leader Britt Andreatta said in her course, Creating a Culture of Learning. “This positive aspirational expectation is far more likely to motivate an employee to grow than being labeled substandard.”

Additionally, in your performance reviews you should give your employees some path to improving themselves – maybe a list of eLearning courses or a mentor to talk with who can help them improve those skills. Or, ideally, a mixture of the two.

This makes the feedback actionable and therefore much more constructive.

The takeaway

This sounds like a really small change to semantics. But it makes a huge difference.

Employees dread performance reviews because they don’t like hearing what they are bad at. And often, even the best-intended feedback can lead to a person feeling worse and actually demotivate them, instead of motivate them.

Adding the word “yet” in your performance ratings can help erase that problem. It shows that greatness is in their grasp – all it requires is focus on the few areas they struggle in.

Bottom line, as Dweck put it, ratings like “below expectations” are “gripped in the tyranny of now.” Instead, ratings with the word "yet" in them help an employee “luxuriate in the power" of improvement.

*image by Bob MacCallum