Rise Performance Group

The Trick of the Presenter’s Paradox in Tracking Employee Performance

By Sally Ann Moyer

Sometimes it feels like we live in a world of bigger is better. It’s tempting to want to bolster your company or yourself by naming off as many accomplishments as possible. The desire to highlight your success naturally leads you to think about it in concrete terms of how much and how many, but performance management rests on more than a numbers game. Tracking employee performance can be a test of quality, not quantity.

More actually means less when it comes to employee evaluations and performance reviews. A recent series of studies reported in the Harvard Business Review called this the Presenter’s Paradox. The studies discovered that “more is not actually better, if what you are adding is of lesser quality than the rest of your offerings.” The Presenter’s Paradox accounts for this disconnect between presenter and consumer perceptions.

In the study, buyers were willing to pay $65 more for just an iPod and a cover compared with a package that also included a free song download. People were willing to pay more for less quantity because the quality was cheapened by the unfavorable additions. However, when the respondents played the role of marketers in the same study, they nearly unanimously chose to sell the package with the free download. Their complete preference reversal just from switching roles is what we call the Presenter’s Paradox.

How can we apply the Presenter’s Paradox to tracking employee performance? Let these three guidelines help you in discerning employee productivity and company success.

1. Think about the big picture.
We have to recognize that “our instincts about selling—ourselves, our company or our products—can be surprisingly bad.” Since both manager and employee will have skewed views of success, both parties should take a step back from the situation. Use the big picture of desired results to evaluate progress and efficiency. Employee assessments such as the Checkpoint 360°™ help you get a broader view of performance with feedback from peers, supervisors and employees. Taking yourself and your employee out of the equation also helps you separate the amount of time spent from how much was actually accomplished. The highest priority projects don’t always take the longest. A big picture approach will help you align performance with your goals.

2. Focus on the what, not how much.
Recognize that accomplishments don’t work additively. Rattling off a list of what everything you’ve done can diminish how impressive you will appear. The more you say, the less impressive you can become. Think about the number of accomplishments and tasks in terms of averages. If an employee has done exceedingly well on the big projects, this is better than if an employee did a barely passable job on a long list of projects. Of course, your ideal employee would accomplish a long list exceedingly well, but which of the two will contribute the most to your company’s long term success? If you want your company to succeed, you will probably choose the employee who can accomplish what matters.

3. Think like a visionary.
Someone who only seeks momentary success would be happy with an employee quickly accomplishing a list of tasks. However, a manager with the company’s wider goals in mind will take a big picture approach and value quantity over quality. To remember how the Presenter’s Paradox can distort our achievements, think about how you would sell a hotel room. The study reminds us that your most impressive employees are those who accomplish the highest proportion of tasks successively. Just as the buyers in the study were willing to pay more to avoid the addition of something trivial, you should expect your employees to accomplish only what can be done well. Keep this in mind when assigning tasks and evaluating employee performance.

Have you ever fallen into the trap of the Presenter’s Paradox?

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