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22 Apr 2016

Research: Positive Performance Evaluations Help Employees Develop Internal Networks

Interactions are an essential part of any organization. Whether it is receiving help from colleagues or gaining access to crucial information, developing a strong internal network makes it easier for an employee to get things done. This latest study examines the impact of performance evaluations on an individual's network.

This article from Andrew Parker is the subject of the 24th GEM LAB Executive Summaries.

From 2004 to 2009, the authors of the study surveyed 150 employees about their internal networking habits. The employees worked at a global IT company spread out over 11 countries. Each year, they were asked to detail the number of colleagues they interacted with and how often these interactions took place. These yearly analyses of internal networks were then correlated with employee performance evaluations.

A determining factor for internal networking

From the article

Dynamics of Social Capital: Effects of Performance Feedback on Network Change
Organization studies 1 – 23 DOI: 10.1177/0170840615613371
Andrew Parker, Daniel S. Halgin, Stephen P. Borgatti, 2016

The study results suggest that a manager's feedback can greatly impact an employee's desire to develop or reduce his or her internal network. The authors highlight that employees with positive evaluations increased their interactions with existing contacts and developed new contacts. In contrast, employees with negative evaluations reduced their number of contacts and interacted more often with those in their limited network.

Positive feedback encourages risk-taking

The correlation between positive performance evaluations and increased network development suggests that evaluations have a strong impact on individual confidence levels. The decision to expand one's network requires a degree of risk-taking (e.g., choosing who to contact? are they reliable? etc.). As positive feedback from a manager promoted employee confidence, individuals developed the energy to expand their networks despite possible risks.

On the other hand, negative evaluations caused employees to adopt defensive attitudes. By undermining confidence, negative feedback can cause employees to focus on contacts they already know and trust. The authors note that similar conclusions had already been reached in 2003 concerning the CEOs at companies in difficult situations. During a crisis, these CEOs had a tendency to limit their network to familiar contacts. The result was that they lost the opportunity to discover new ideas, which might have helped them overcome their current challenge.

Providing support after negative evaluations

Given the results of this study, the researchers advise companies to provide support for employees who receive negative feedback. The goal is to encourage them to expand their networks and highlight how this can in fact improve performance and future evaluations. To provide support and opportunities for employees to expand their networks, companies can implement various actions such as mentoring, training, interdepartmental meetings or transversal projects

Key Points

  • Annual performance evaluations influence how employees manage their internal networks.
  • Positive evaluations improve confidence levels and encourage employees to expand their networks.
  • Negative evaluations can cause employees to reduce their networks. Companies and managers must provide support for these employees in order to limit the negative impact of an evaluation and help them expand their networks