Category Archives: Motivation

Tips for Giving an Effective Performance Review

Nicole Davidson

Nicole Davidson

If we consider the goals of a performance review, I would say that in an ideal world, a performance review would provide an employee not only with an honest, practical review of their past work, but also with new motivation for the future. Often however, performance reviews are an annual source of uncertainty, stress, and frustration, with the most frequent complaint being that reviews present a biased or unfair view of their work. Inexperience on the part of the reviewer can play a big part in whether a review is successful or not.

As a reviewer, I must say that my style has changed fairly dramatically over the years. I provide annual reviews for approximately 40 front-line employees, and so over the past eight years in my position, I have conducted a few hundred reviews. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a manager who is extremely effective at giving me my own reviews, and I’ve adjusted some of his methods to use myself. I’ve definitely made some mistakes over the years, but I’ve come up with some tips to help others provide effective reviews.

Go in to the review knowing what you want to say. This first step may seem too simple or straightforward, but hear me out: it is definitely possible to go in either with too much or too little to say. A common error is to over-plan the review, and end up shutting out a fruitful discussion with the employee. It can be intimidating for an employee to see pages and pages of notes you wish to discuss with them. For myself, I find that the best strategy is to pull all the information together and then sort it and break it down into five broad topics I want to be sure to discuss. The topics should be a mix of both positive and negative, and should be supported by specific examples. When I go into the review, I keep only one page of notes, with key words and ideas rather than paragraphs. I try to bring up the areas as part of the natural flow of the review, rather than reading them all out at once.

Don’t focus on the small stuff. A good friend of mine who herself works in a Human Resources department recently told me about a review she received. In her review, her manager spent a large amount of time talking about a small data entry error that they had discussed earlier in the year. The manager reiterated the points she had brought up in the past, and finished the discussion by saying that “it was a surprise when you made that mistake, because normally you were so good at this”. Given that the mistake had not been repeated, my friend was very upset not only by the backhanded compliment, but also by the focus of her review. She felt that the review unfairly stressed small mistakes while glossing over general good performance. Rather than leaving the review feeling motivated to improve, she left thinking about looking for a new job.

It is natural for a manager to want to make sure that they bring up important points, particularly in areas they wish to see improvement in, or which have been issues in the past. However, it is also important to keep these discussions concise. A better way to approach this particular situation would have been for her manager to say something like “We did have an issue in November with data entry, and I’ve noticed since then we haven’t had a similar error. What strategies are you using that you think have helped?”. This way, rather than placing the focus on the error, the manager and employee can focus on the improvement and ways to sustain it.

Provide specific, truthful examples. As human beings, it is naturally difficult to see ourselves from an outside perspective. This is why an effective review can be so valuable to employee development. Recently I spoke with a member of our front-line staff who has frequent interactions with our customers. She had received a few customer complaints about a lack of friendliness, and I had noticed that during busy periods, she often stopped smiling, made less eye contact, and walked away before people finished speaking. When we had her review, I brought up a specific example, and explained how I thought that her focus on completing tasks was affecting her body language and facial expressions. I got a great response from her; she hadn’t noticed how much being busy or feeling stressed was affecting how others perceived her. Our discussion focussed on ways for her to manage her stress level, and being cognizant of her facial expression. We saw a great improvement in her customer service skills over the next few weeks, and when I spoke with her to follow up, she told me that she left the review feeling like she was understood and supported, and that successful change was achievable.

Being an effective reviewer means taking a specific example of a behaviour and then trying to find a root cause. Sometimes a reviewer might be able to see this on their own, and other times a discussion with the employee can help bring it to light. A reviewer can then help an employee to come up with a strategy to deal with the root cause, rather than focussing on the behaviour itself.

These are just a few tips that have helped me to improve my skills. I feel that there is so much potential in a good review to improve the employee relationship and performance, and too often we just miss out. What are your strategies for giving a good review?

Motivational Team Building


At a Research Roadshow held at our college this week, I led a one hour workshop on a technique called Photovoice.  In participatory research, Photovoice uses photography as a tool for social change (Community, n.d.).  In this workshop I was demonstrating how to use Photovoice in research but I realized that it can also be used for team building and motivation which leads to individual and organizational change.

I asked participants to bring a picture to the workshop that represents an achievement in their lives.  Let me share this experience with you.

The first photo was of our colleague who is leaving the college.  She was ‘on stage’ with the Director of the college, and the organizer of the social event where the recognition took place. 

At first I was concerned that the participant had misunderstood my request, because she wasn’t in the picture and she talked about the achievements of those in the photo and how much she admires them. 

With a little trepidation, I asked her how this photo represented her achievement.  Her answer reassured me that she completely understood my request. She loves to acknowledge others and she does this through photography.  She had spent her time at the event taking pictures of people engaging with their colleagues and families taking part in the activities, just, having fun. Then she had sent these pictures to the people who were in them. That was her achievement, capturing the enjoyment of others and giving it back to them!

The second photo was of a young couple on a beautiful beach. The woman who shared it explained that this was a photo of her newly married son and his wife on their honeymoon and that as a parent; it was a huge achievement to see her son married to his childhood sweetheart.  She told us that her family lived in one of the cities in Mexico that has a major drug problem and she is so proud that her son and his wife have managed to be successful in their careers and their lives.  This is a clear reflection of her and her husband’s parenting.

The next photo was of stacks of paper on a tile floor and I had a difficult time figuring out what this might represent.  Had this person finished his marking?  No, it turns out that this was a picture of his Master’s thesis in its last iteration!  His relief, joy and pride of having finished were evident as he talked about this achievement.

Another participant showed a photo of himself with two others in a formal setting.  He said that he had entered a sustainability competition in the Netherlands and he didn’t win and this was a photo from this competition.  But, he went on to enter a second completion in the Far East where he did win!  So this photo was his inspiration.

Finally, one of the women shared a photo of a painting called ‘Reclining Woman’.  The painting was full of rich, vibrant colours.  The woman explained that this was her first painting and she couldn’t believe she had done it.  She loves interior design and dresses flamboyantly and many people had commented that she seems like an artist – and it seems that she is.

This portion of the workshop took about twenty minutes and really energized the group. 

As I reflected back on it, I thought that this would make a wonderful team building exercise for a department or a small company.  It brought to light the strengths of the people in the room, helped them get to know each other and created some alliances as they discussed their achievements.  I know that this has given them topics to follow up on with each other – positive, generative topics – that are always good to have in the workplace.

I think many of us have learned that talking about ourselves is ‘bragging’ and we shouldn’t engage in it. And, yes, sometimes that is the case.  But in a loosely structured setting, where everyone has the opportunity to share, talking about our achievements and successes can be energizing and motivating.  Why not give it a try in your next team building session?

Photovoice Websites and Resources

To Award or Reward

Is there a difference between an award and a rewardMany companies have some sort of recognition program for tenure whether it be formal or informal, done in house or by a 3rd party contractor. My company is currently looking at implementing a length of service program; we have a mid size staff level of 650 employees, have quite a few tenured employees with 15+ years as well as a large cohort of 5-10 year employees equating to almost 60% of our workforce. We are a prime candidate for a length of service program as we have many employees who have put in significant time working for us, and take pride in their tenure.

When we first set out to look at length of service programs I was impressed with how many third part companies are out there, and the quality and structure of the programs. Many are simple to set up, have low administrative responsibilities and are automated from the providers side making the program easy to run.

The premise of the program is that the employee, once they reach a length of service milestone, will be congratulated and prompted to choose themselves an anniversary gift. The gift will come from a pre selected group of items that correspond to a level of value that coincides with the service milestone- the longer you work for the company the higher the monetary value of the gift becomes. The trick is in the perceived value of the gifts, if the perception of the value is high, that’s great; even better if the perceived value is as high as or higher than the actual value. The gifts tend to fall into categories such as home entertainment, kitchen and household wares, sporting goods, jewelry, and electronics and are usually common items. So let me ask you this, if for 5 years of service an employer has agreed to spend $150 on an anniversary gift for an employee are they better off going the route of the 3rd party gift supplier that offers the ‘selection’ option, or should the employer give the employee, say a preloaded visa gift card? One could argue that the gift card approach is impersonal, but so is an order by mail gift option. The argument comes down to if you are awarding or rewarding the employee for their length of service; the award route would the anniversary gift item, and the reward route would be the gift card or cash route. In your opinion, is there a difference between an award and a reward? Are they not both incentives and celebrate a length of service milestone? I think that offering a gift selection along with a few gift card options is great, it gives the employee choice and the ability to pick their item of choice; but, by default, wouldn’t then every employee pick the gift card route to go and hand pick their item from a store of their choice where there is not only a selection of gifts, but a variety of brands to choose from as well. Does choice not add value to the gift?

I’ll make sure to follow up this article with a short update on our selection. Please do leave a comment- I’d love to hear it!

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, Even if all you Wanted was a Tiki Bar

Among the many negative comments directed to the City of Vancouver, one that’s recently returned is ‘no fun city.’ This name reflects strict bylaws and limited support for the arts. Earlier this month, it was announced that a property developer had purchased land being leased by a popular hotel bar called The Waldorf. A unique space with a 1960s theme in one room and a Tiki Bar in another, the popular destination was a breath of fresh air for locals. Once the announcement was made, local discourse led to protests, meetings with City Council, and now The Waldorf is being reviewed as a potential heritage building, which would save it from demolition.

What makes Vancouver so great is the diversity of its people, and their personal goals. The uproar surrounding The Waldorf for example, shows that on one hand, there are focused business people looking for any opportunity to find space for the city’s ever growing population to call home, and on the other hand, there are performers whose care most about cultivating a strong community through entertainment.

Our Coffee Shop HR World Cafe this month was a challenge to our contributors to shine a light on people who love their jobs. While it’s inspiring for some to see people succeed, for others it’s a negative reality check for their own status.  But why be jealous of someone else’s success?  It probably didn’t come overnight, and even if it appears that it did, be mindful of all the small decisions that person made leading up to his/her triumph.

Kim Bunka

Kim Bunka

Everyone has to start somewhere, and everyone has a hidden dream that reflects who they really are.  I interviewed a young local artist named Kim Bunka. A vocal instructor and musical theater performer, Kim’s greatest ambition is to work for the Walt Disney Company:

1. Why do you want to work for Disney?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I have so much passion about working for Disney, I could easily write an essay on it! But I’ll try to narrow it down… I think one of the main reasons I want to work for Disney is I could spend my days making people happy. I love it when I have the chance to make someone’s day better or make them smile and I think I would have a lot of opportunities to do that while working for Disney.

2. What exactly is your goal, and have you set a deadline to achieve it?

My goal is to acquire a job working as a performer with Disney Cruise Lines, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney or Hong Kong Disneyland. As a Canadian it is very hard to get work as a performer in either of the American parks. I had my first audition in June of 2012 so I have told myself that if I haven’t been hired by June of 2013 I need to regroup and re-evaluate my goals. 

3. What sets you apart from others who audition?

I think a lot of the people who audition for Disney also love Disney so it’s hard to say if my love (bordering on obsession!) sets me a part, but I think it might. Also I have over 15 years of experience with performing Musical Theatre and graduated from a musical theatre college program where as some people don’t have that experience or it’s their very first audition ever. 

4. If you could play any Disney character, who would you choose and why?

Well, at the parks or on the cruise lines the characters portray themselves of course, I’ve been auditioning for the chance to work with them. However if I could be a Disney character for a day I’d love to be Tinkerbell, Belle or Cinderella as those are some of my favourite girl characters. I dressed up as Minnie Mouse for Halloween a couple of years ago and that was fun too! 

5. Lots of people target specific companies they want to work for. If HR was to ask you in an interview, ‘why are you a good fit for the organization?’ how would you respond?

If I were asked that question I think I would say something like…”I believe I am a great fit for the Disney Company because of my love for the magic that Disney has brought to people all over the world for decades. I am passionate about the way Disney tells stories in their movies, parks and on the cruise lines and I want to be a part of that. I have an upbeat personality and willingly flash smiles at strangers in hopes of making their day brighter. My extensive training in musical theatre and my strong work ethic give me the tools to entertain guests at Disney’s high-standard level. My experience teaching children gives me the knowledge of how to interact with people of all ages. Working for Disney would be my dream come true because I would be a part of making other people’s dreams come true and spreading happiness in a world that needs all the happiness it can get.” 

You can feel Kim’s enthusiasm and admiration for Disney in her words, and you can’t help but admire her fearlessness.  I heard someone once say that every man has a dream for his family. But certainly, every one of us has a dream for ourselves!  It’s Friday, and so my challenge to you is to take some time to remember what you originally set your mind to achieve when you started working.

What is your greatest professional aspiration?
Where are you now?
What are you willing to do to achieve success?

And remember, not all dreams require that you completely change who you are, and where you’re already going in your career; not all buildings need to be demolished to build something new. After all, Disneyland Park has a Tiki Bar.

Facets of Motivation

Because I live in a country where decisions are made at a family, rather than an individual level, I was curious about how one would stay motivated if achieving a goal was not simply an individual endeavor, but was mediated by family members. Bear with me, I will bring this back to HR in a moment, but first, I’d like to share a conversation I had with one of my students at the women’s college where I teach.

I asked my student how she stays motivated when she wants to do something and her family disagrees.

Without hesitating, she described the steps she takes when her parents tell her she cannot pursue a goal. First of all, she envisions her goal and imagines what it will be like when she achieves it.  This surprised me, because I thought a ‘no’ was a ‘no’, so I wondered why she would be focusing on achieving her goal when her parents had vetoed it.

Secondly, she talks to her friends and other family members and gains support for her idea.

Thirdly, she figures out what her parents object to, that is, she reflects on what is it they are concerned about.  In the example the student shared, her parents disagreed with her plan to apply for a scholarship that would see her spending ten days in New York City.

Her fourth step is to research ways to allay her parents’ concerns and come up with solutions she thinks might work.  She then shares these ideas with her parents.   If they raise other concerns, she addresses these as well and, when she can, she shares benefits to her goal that her parents may not have known about.  In this case, if the student was granted the scholarship, it would enable her to enter the workforce at a higher level, something her parents may not have thought of, but would be pleased with.

She doesn’t give up; she keeps focused until she has convinced her parents.

I asked how she developed this strategy and she said that as a young child she began working out ways to bring her parents onside.  Her older sister took ‘no’ for the final answer and didn’t pursue her dreams, but this student says she is intrinsically motivated so she would go ahead and work out how to alleviate her parents’ concerns.  Now she coaches her older sister.

Tying this back to the question of how to motivate employees, it would seem that intrinsic motivation is stronger in some people than in others.  Some people will need external motivation and others won’t.  So yes, it is up to leaders to motivate those who need it.  Those who are intrinsically motivated, as my student pointed out, will find ways to achieve their goals, leaders need only provide support, encouragement, or in some cases permission, and then step aside.

Reflecting on my student’s example I realized that this ties back into the workplace where it would be useful to provide training for employees in how to achieve their goals, not the ones that are set for them, but the ones they identify on their own.  Quite often employees come up with ideas that would enhance their organization’s performance, but they don’t know how to introduce these ideas or build support for them.  My student’s technique strikes me as a good starting point for helping employees develop strategies to achieve their goals by asking for assistance from others.

As managers or leaders, it would seem that it is important to encourage these employees by creating an environment that is relatively free from constraints where new and creative practices can be developed – the premise of ‘skunkworks’.

I have noticed that employees will often work on a project they are interested in with great dedication and little thought of rewards, perhaps as a form of self-actualization.  It seems that many employees are interested in ‘making a difference’ in their organizations especially when they define the terms.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that work is but one facet of a person’s life and their motivation will fluctuate depending on where their focus is at the moment.  We can expect interruptions in our employees’ and colleagues’ motivation, but these won’t last.

Some employees see work is a safe haven of predictability when their life is in chaos, it is a place where they have control and a sense of stability.  These employees will be motivated to maintain routines and will work well within a structured framework. They won’t be as interested in creating or participating in change initiatives but they can be counted on to put the systems in place to normalize the change once it has been adopted – once again creating a sense of stability.

Listening to our employees and colleagues can give us answers more quickly and efficiently than speculation coupled with trial and error.

I didn’t anticipate the answer my student gave me and I am not convinced that another student would share her approach, but I am sure that every student has a strategy.  Indeed, when I asked my young granddaughter how she stays motivated when she has difficulty with math, she explained that rewards are very helpful.  Time to practice, praise and recognition keep her going. Staying with a concept until she understands it completely is important, she doesn’t like to move on to new processes before she has mastered the current one.  Wise words indeed!

As always, I am amazed at both the complexity and the simplicity of the responses and the ways to ensure colleagues and employees are motivated. Time for some introspection!


Strong, P. (2006). Honors as Skunkworks. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council. Vol. 6, 2.

Cundall, M.  (2010). Service learning and skunkworks in a senior honors colloquium.  Honors in Practice. Vol. 6