Employees and Leaders Benefit From Unequivocal Confirmation


Helena explained to her friend, “I just talked with my boss.  She couldn’t say enough good things about how I handled an unhappy client.  She went on and on.  It makes me worry.”

“Why would that make you worry?”

“I think she may have an ulterior motive.”

“Like what?”

“You know we are opening a new location, and I’ve told her that I do not want to transfer.  She may be thinking about moving me to the new site.”

How is it that we have taken a concept like “sincere appreciation” and turned it into something suspicious?

Maybe it’s because we have introduced practices like balanced feedback—identify what is good and what needs improvement.  Maybe it’s because performance appraisal systems discourage unqualified high appraisals—try turning in an exceptionally-high appraisal with no suggestions for improvement.   Maybe the concept “you can always improve” pervades leader-employee relationships.

Unequivocal confirmation occurs when a leader tells an employee something the employee knows to be true without “if’s,” “and’s,” or “but’s.”  Leaders practice pure confirmation so rarely that employees become suspicious when they hear it.

Employees (people) need to be confirmed.  It is not a psychological need; it is a physiological need.  Unequivocal confirmation releases endorphins (chemicals that create a sense of well-being) in our brains.    Insightful leaders realize that unequivocal confirmation increases both employee engagement and satisfaction.

Can We Just Eliminate Annual Performance Appraisals?


“Over my career,” a manager confided, “I’ve done hundreds of annual performance reviews.  I can’t remember the last time that an employee made significant and lasting behavior changes as a result of one.”

Another manager reported, “We had so many complaints about our appraisals, we appointed a task team to develop a new form.  After many hours of deliberation, followed by training on the new process, we rolled out the program.  Everyone was excited at first; but after a year, complaints whelped up again.”

“I spent hours preparing data to support my ratings,” said another.  “I don’t think it helped at all.  Employees who disagreed still argued and whined about low ratings.”

No one pays attention to annual appraisals until they do.  When managers become unhappy with an employee, the appraisal emerges as documentation to justify termination.  Employees know this.  That is why many get defiantly defensive about low ratings.

For these reasons, Deloitte, Accenture, Gap, Lear, General Electric, and many others have dropped their annual appraisal process.

I think brief, monthly employee reviews are less stressful and much more meaningful than annual appraisal rituals.  Consider questions like, “What were your two most important achievements last month?  What are you planning to focus on next month?”

Confirm what you agree with.  Discuss your disagreements.  This approach is quicker, less stressful and more meaningful.