10 TED talks on best-practice performance management

I love a good TED talk – you get so much insight in so little time. The best TED talks compress an entire book into the space of 20 minutes. But it’s not just the amount of insight that’s impressive – it’s also the clarity of communication. You need no specialist experience to understand what are often complicated ideas and research.

For all these reasons I think TED talks are a great way to learn about new ideas in performance management. For this article I’ve been through some of my favourite TED talks and selected the ten that I think feature the most interesting thinking driving performance management today.

You’ll see that below each talk I’ve given you a couple of quick notes on the key takeaways for better performance management.

I’d love to hear what you took away from these ten talks – let me know in the comments below or via Twitter (tweet me @cognology).

1. Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

As Achor describes: “Your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves.”

Great performance management encourages positivity throughout the organisation. As I talk about here, best-practice performance management is forward looking and focuses on positive reinforcement, goals, recognition and autonomy.

2. Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation

In this talk, Pink describes a number of experiments that have found incentives actually lead to lower performance (the larger the reward, the poorer the performance).

If we really want high performance in our organisations, the solution isn’t to entice people with a bigger carrot, or threaten them with a longer stick. We need to understand intrinsic motivation.

Best-practice performance management targets each of the three elements required for intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy is delivered by giving people goals and the freedom to reach them in their own way
  • Mastery is driven by providing feedback and coaching, which helps people build their competency and skills
  • Purpose is created by giving people transparency to business objectives through feedback and regular check-ins (and ensuring all goals are aligned with those objectives)

3. Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work

In this powerful talk, Ariely describes two experiments that show challenge and recognition are more effective motivators than money.

Done well, performance management is the most effective tool for leaders to set challenges and deliver recognition – using tools like goals, feedback and coaching.

4. Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

Treasure starts this talk by looking at the 7 deadly sins of speaking – then quickly turns to improving both what you say and how you say it:

  • What’ looks at the ‘HAIL’ approach: honesty, authenticity, integrity and love
  • ‘How’ looks at controlling your voice – register, timbre and prosody

At the core of effective performance management is successful communication. To deliver feedback that will be taken on board it’s critical that you speak so that people around you want to listen.

5. Simon Sinek: Why good leaders make you feel safe

Sinek makes the argument that being a great leader is like being a parent. He argues that you need to provide your people with opportunity, education, discipline, self-confidence, and the opportunity to try and fail.

When people feel safe and protected by the leadership in the organisation, their natural reaction is to trust and cooperate (driving higher performance).

6. Drew Dudley: Everyday leadership

Dudley explains that leadership doesn’t have to be extraordinary, it’s simply the everyday act of improving each other’s lives.

At heart, this is the purpose of performance management – to improve each other’s day-to-day experience at work.

This talk is a simple reminder that performance management doesn’t have to be top-down process. Fundamentally, great performance management can be as simple as a quick tip from a colleague (and a thankyou in reciprocation).

7. Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree

A great talk on why disagreement is critical for optimal business performance. As Heffernan describes, most people tend to avoid conflict, but for a number of reasons the best business partners allow each other to disagree (often deeply).

Best-practice performance management opens channels of communication and gives all parties the freedom to disagree with each other (in a fact based environment).

8. Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days

This talk suggests a fantastic way for leaders to start integrating parts of agile performance management into their workplace. As Cutts describes, 30 days is about the right amount of time to add or subtract a habit.

For example, to encourage a culture of feedback a leader might ask her team to deliver the following feedback every week to different people:

  • 4 pieces of positive feedback, and
  • 1 piece of constructive feedback.

It’s an easy and natural way to move towards a more open and agile culture of performance management.

9. Laura Trice: Remember to say thank you

In this quick talk, Trice looks at the importance of praise, admiration and saying thank you. Importantly, she focuses on the importance of asking for praise if you need it. Trice also reinforces why praise (or ‘positive feedback’) must be specific and genuine

This is a quick and powerful reminder that performance management isn’t just up to the ‘boss’ – employees (and leaders) shouldn’t be afraid to ask for feedback.

10. Richard St. John: Success is a continuous journey

According to St. John, success is really the final stage in a 9-step cycle:

  1. Passion
  2. Work
  3. Focus
  4. Push
  5. Ideas
  6. Improve
  7. Serve
  8. Persist
  9. Success

In the same way, best practice performance management is a continual process – focused on growth of the individual (not just the review cycle).

It’s easy to apply each element of a best practice performance approach to St. John’s cycle of success, for example:

  • Passion: Through regular check-ins make sure that your employees are working on things they’re passionate about
  • Focus: Through clearly defined goals
  • Improve: Through feedback, coaching and mentoring
Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.