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5 TED talks to watch before giving a performance review

Hannah Price

Writer, Culture Amp

Performance management is a tricky business. It can be awkward, uncomfortable, sweaty. The performance review can be particularly taxing – an hour-long meeting of clammy hands and nervous smiles.

But, we all know that getting and giving feedback is necessary. If you’re a manager who wants to improve your team’s performance or an individual who wants to grow in their career, you must give and get honest and constructive feedback. 

We’ve handpicked these five TED talks to ease the process. All of them are under 15 minutes, and they’re jam-packed with top tips. 

1. 10 ways to have a better conversation by Celeste Headlee

Posting Date: May 2015

Run Time: 11:45

In my opinion, this is the best TED talk out there for improving overall communication skills. Celeste Headlee gives us tips on how to have conversations with people you don’t like, don’t find particularly interesting, or simply don’t agree with.

Celeste emphasizes that, at the moment, the human race is more polarized than ever before. This means we’re unlikely to compromise with each other or properly listen to one another. Instead, we often act on our predefined beliefs. 

How does this relate to performance management?

A lot of people find feedback awkward and difficult. However, we all know how important it is to have an honest, clear, polite conversation on how we can improve at work. Headlee’s conversation can help you do that and much more (so can our article on performance review phrases).

“We've all had really great conversations. We've had them before. We know what it's like. The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or here you feel like you've made a real connection or you've been perfectly understood. There is no reason why most of your interactions can't be like that.”

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2. The happy secret to better work by Shawn Achor

Posting Date: May 2011

Run Time: 12:14

In this funny, fast-fast moving talk, Shawn Achor elaborates on the importance of positive psychology. His research shows that workplace successes have less to do with IQ and far more to do with our outlook, our optimism, and our support network. 

“If you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed.”

Shawn provides a simple but excellent process on how we can all change our outlook to become more positive. 

How does this relate to performance management?

This talk is all about improving performance through positive reinforcement, which is an excellent message for managers and leaders who manage performance. It’s a reminder to not always focus on the negative and the power of focusing on positive feedback. There is also practical messaging on how to manage goal setting and success.

“We're finding it's not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

3. 8 lessons on building a company people enjoy working for by Patty McCord

Posting Date: February 2019

Run Time: 5:11

In this snappy talk, Patty McCord gives us eight lessons to help us rethink our approach and practice of Human Resources. Each of her tips is a little golden nugget of advice. If you’re interested in affecting real change at your company, use this talk as a jumping-off point for your research.

How does this relate to performance management?

While this talk touches on many relevant human resources topics, Lesson Five is completely focused on feedback. I recommend you watch the whole thing, but if you want to jump to Lesson Five, it’s at 2:20.

“Let's rethink the word ‘feedback,’ and think about it as telling people the truth, the honest truth, about what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong, at the moment when they're doing it. ‘That good thing you just did, whoo! That's exactly what I'm talking about. Go do that again.’ And people will do that again, today, three more times.”

4. Why good leaders make you feel safe by Simon Sinek

Posting Date: May 2014

Run Time: 11:55

Simon Sinek explores the idea of safety, trust, and performance within an organization. He states, “When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.”

To achieve this level of communal safety, Simon explains that every individual needs to know that their colleagues have their back. With that trust, individuals will work more collaboratively and with dedication. This behavior starts at the very top, with the leader.

How does this relate to performance management? 

This talk explains how leaders can improve performance by creating a trusting environment. Also, when we trust in our leaders and our managers, we know that any negative feedback they give us is truly meant for our benefit, and not as a criticism. 

“We call them leaders because they take the risk before anybody else does. We call them leaders because they will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected and so their people may gain, and when we do, the natural response is that our people will sacrifice for us.”

5. Build a tower not a team by Tom Wujec

Posting Date: February 2010

Run Time: 6:45

In this short and sweet talk, Tom Wujec shares some interesting findings from running the Marshmallow Test. If you haven’t heard of it, the Marshmallow Test requires teams of four to build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and a marshmallow. The marshmallow has to be on top. 

Not only does this test measure collaboration and teamwork skills, but it also highlights the importance of process and testing. 

How does this relate to performance management?

While this talk is technically about the design process, it holds some great lessons for managing performance. Namely, if you give someone feedback to change something, you can’t just give them one shot at improving. They need to be able to explore, test things out, fail again, and get feedback. All of that will give them a much higher chance of success. 

“I offered a 10,000 dollar prize of software to the winning team. So what do you think happened to these design students? What was the result? Here's what happened: Not one team had a standing structure. If anyone had built, say, a one-inch structure, they would have taken home the prize. So, isn't that interesting? That high stakes have a strong impact.”

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