4 TED Talks on Performance Management

Everyone loves a good TED Talk.

World-renowned experts sharing cutting-edge ideas in a bite-sized format — there's really no better (or quicker) way to get inspired.

And for performance management, a little inspiration in the form of a beautifully original idea is often just what we need. After all, there is so much NOISE out there. It can be hard to steer through the jargon and find a voice that can tell you clearly and simply why this stuff matters.

Luckily, we found four of those voices. So whether you want to be an HR trailblazer, or simply a better manager— sit back and be inspired.

1. The Puzzle of Motivation by Dan Pink

Watch time: 18 minutes

There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”


The Puzzle of Motivation by Dan Pink is one of the most popular TED Talks of all time.

What Dan will teach you about performance management:

This video, released in 2009, became part of the performance management canon because it flies in the face of the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ approach which, Dan points out, is actually pretty detrimental to business outcomes.

According to Dan, there's a 40-year-old body of expert evidence proving the classic reward incentives don’t work. Not only that, they're counterproductive. Dan's big idea is based on what he calls ‘intrinsic motivation’ — the desire to do things because they matter, not because we’ll be paid more.

Dan lays out a new business model based on three essential components for employee success: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If you can come up with creative ways to use these tools, you can make your employees feel more motivated than money ever could.

One way to nurture greater autonomy at work is to rely on your performance management process to check in regularly, but not too regularly. When you get the timing right, you reduce your risk of falling into a culture of micromanagement.

The can't miss moment: minute 9:00, hear Dan explain why reward incentives simply don’t work.

2. What Makes us Feel Good About our Work by Dan Ariely

Watch time: 20 minutes

“Ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of their eyes.”


Chances are you’ve seen that quote before. It has made appearances in almost every HR publication on the internet — and for good reason.

What Dan will again teach you about performance management:

In this TED Talk, world-renowned behavioral economist Dan Ariely dives deep into the relationship between motivation, meaning and productivity. By taking us through a series of experiments, Dan demonstrates just how important meaning is in our working lives. And all too often, it's the missing piece.

Dan presents seven key principals that underpin employee satisfaction: Meaning, Ownership, Creation Challenge, Pride and Identity. And the other six principles are just as important as meaning (seriously check this one out!).

In one simple example of how to help employees develop a sense of ownership, take a look at how prototype optics manufacturer Optimax uses peer reviews. Under the right circumstances, peer reviews can not only help identify areas for development, they can also help your team feel a sense of collective support for your performance management process.

The can't miss moment: Minute 13:20, Dan's clever ‘instant cake’ anecdote, which outlines his theory that the more effort we put into a task, the more meaningful it becomes.

3. The Happy Secret to Better Work by Shawn Achor

Watch time: 9 minutes

“It’s not just the reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”


In this immensely enjoyable talk, Shawn Achor takes us on a fast-paced journey into the science of happiness.

What Shawn will teach you about performance management:

According to Shawn, the old formula for success — ‘If I work hard, I’ll become more successful and I become more successful, I'll finally be happy' — is broken. Believe it or not, this broken belief system is more a recipe for unhappiness than anything else. That's because our brains are conditioned to constantly move the goal posts. For instance, an employee gets a promotion, but rather than being happy about it, they end up obsessing over hitting the next step on the ladder. And on and on it goes.

By switching into a present, positive mindset, employees and managers can experience what Shawn calls the ‘Happiness Advantage.’ With this performance power tool, employees can essentially harness the happiness hormone, dopamine, to become smarter, faster and more successful at work, without stressing out about it.

In your employee reviews, there are always questions about what’s gone well. But if you really want to tap into the 'Happiness Advantage', you need to narrow down the focus to what's good about the present. One way to do this is to simply ask employees what aspects of their work they feel the most grateful for.

The can't miss moment: Minute 9:20, Shawn explains the 'Happiness Advantage' in detail.

4. Forget the Pecking Order by Magaret Hefferman

Watch time: 15 minutes

“Companies don’t have ideas only people do.”


With that statement, Margaret Hefferman poses a radical idea: it’s not leaders that save the day but the team.

What Margaret will teach you about performance management:

She argues that the bonds and trust we develop with each other is a key driver of outstanding employee performance. Yet many companies ignore this. Leadership has been conditioned to create a competitive environment that values the "stars" rather than the group.

For those of us who see the importance of social cohesion at work, we often we assume it'll happen organically. But it doesn’t. (After all, anyone who's ever worked in an open plan office can tell you it's no guarantee of camaraderie.)

So how do you overcome this age-old culture of competition?

A great starting point is to encourage peer-to-peer recognition. For instance, the healthy snack delivery company Snacknation has ‘crush’ Friday, where employees are encouraged to publicly praise each other by simply calling out someone on the team who's really "crushing it". And it doesn’t matter if it’s for finishing a massive project or simply a small act of kindness. All crushes count.

The can't miss moment: Right at the start, hear Margaret talk through ‘the super-chicken model.’ It's pretty great.