A person’s task performance is, in essence, how well she or he accomplishes the crucial functions of a role (Borman & Motowidlo, 1993). This, of course, can be learning a concept for a student, serving the community in a positive way for a volunteer or doing a major job duty in the workplace for an employee. As someone who studies workplace behaviors, I can attest that it’s crucial for managers to recognize good employee performance.
My favorite superhero is Batman, though he is not always recognized for his good performance. I like Batman because he doesn’t have any real superpowers but is able to fight crime using his detective skills (and, of course, gadgets). I also like that, by day, he is a successful businessperson, but he gives back to his community in the evenings, albeit in the nontraditional way of dressing like a bat and patrolling the streets of Gotham City.
I think that one of the best portrayals of Batman is in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (2005-2012). Aside from liking the final installment of the trilogy because it features Pittsburgh standing in for Gotham City, I also like it because it illustrates the effects of not recognizing good performance. Not acknowledging Batman’s contributions has a negative impact on him as well as on Gotham.
In the first two films, Batman takes on the supervillains Scarecrow and Joker as well as Gotham’s mob. But, after the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent who was seen as a hero in the city, Commissioner Gordon (who is, in essence, Batman’s “manager” if we define his job as protector and his workplace Gotham) is persuaded to convince the city that Batman committed the crimes that Dent actually perpetrated. Thus, despite performing his job well, Batman’s manager will not reward or recognize his good performance. Moreover, he will accuse him of criminal activities and publicly brand him as an outlaw!
In effect, Batman goes into exile. Between the end of the second movie and beginning of the third, Batman seems to have barely made appearances in Gotham. He stopped protecting the city and, though crime was reduced for a time, it eventually made a comeback. Bruce Wayne (who is secretly Batman) has avoided being seen in public and has had his health seemingly go downhill.
Of course, not all of these may be directly caused by a lack of recognition of Batman’s positive performance, but they are likely related. If Batman was recognized as a hero because of his performance, he would have likely continued to fight crime instead of getting frustrated and quitting his “job.” This would have made Gotham safer. Similarly, Bruce Wayne/Batman also probably would not have been as emotionally aloof which could have possibly improved his mental state.
The point is this: negative things can happen when people aren’t acknowledged for good performance. Employees may leave their organizations. Students may stop studying. Volunteers might stop giving back. And Batman might not help Gotham clean up crime.
Instead, the following approaches might be useful to encourage positive performance:
- Provide praise often and loudly. When you see someone doing a positive task or achieving a good outcome, tell them. Doing so quickly after they engage in a specific behavior is most useful because it will help reinforce their performance. Even better is to also tell others about what that person did. Be sure to acknowledge what it is about their performance that you thought was good and how their performance impacted others in a positive way.
- Give negative feedback privately. Sometimes, especially as managers, individuals might need to point out poor performance to help someone improve and to achieve more positive outcomes. When criticism needs to occur, it should be done in a private manner to minimize embarrassment. If criticized publicly, as Batman was criticized for crimes he didn’t commit, a person may be reluctant to try to perform again for fear of further punishment or embarrassment.
- Create heroes to improve performance. Role models are examples to show what level of performance is expected of individuals (Kouzes & Posner, 2006). Those individuals who are raised up to be heroes and examples for others through the stories that are told of them often take pride in their accomplishments and seek to continue to perform well because others look up to them. Those who are told stories about heroes or provided with role models gain a sense for behaviors that might be expected of them within a certain context.
Have you ever not been recognized for good performance? How did you feel? Did you adjust your future behaviors as a result? I love learning from your perspectives, so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/urickmj/) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-urick-05b775a3/). You can also comment below.
Dr. Mike Urick
Borman, W. C., & Motowidlo, S. M. (1993). Expanding the criterion domain to include elements of contextual performance. In Personnel Selection in Organizations, eds. N. Schmitt and W. C. Borman (71-98). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2006). The leadership challenge (3 edition). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Nolan, C. (2005, 2008, 2012). “The Dark Knight” Trilogy. Warner Bros. Pictures