We often hear the best things about people at the end. Testimonials are generally saved for retirement dinners an almost every eulogy tells us about how wonderful a person was. Why is that? Are we afraid of embarrassing people? Would hearing such great things about ourselves be a de-motivator?

This paper posits that hearing about our best selves is motivating and we should share this praise with people early in their work careers. Instead of leading to complacency, their data show that thinking about when we have performed well and hearing others applaud our accomplishments activate us and leads to higher resilience, performance, and engagement.

I’ve written before about highlighting positive aspects of performance feedback in order to motivate people and how the best performers keep improving from feedback. The activation research gets me thinking that there is a bit more to it. The better performers may be doing more with the constructive feedback because it is surrounded by so many good stories. Perhaps if we built more positive activation into our performance feedback processes (whether they be performance appraisals or 360s) non-top performers would receive some of the same benefits

We always tell managers that intrinsic motivators are more effective than extrinsic ones because people don’t tire of them (when they are authentic) and they are free. The self-activation data tells us that reminders of employees’ best selves are deeply rooted and inspire them to return to that state. Let’s look for more opportunities to do that.

For more information on providing motivating feedback, please contact Warren Bobrow.