Improving performance improvement (2): From win-lose to win-win

By Mirjam Neelen
This blog is the second in a series of blogs exploring various components, such as motivation and learning opportunities that come into play when you try to improve performance improvement.

In my previous blog on improving performance improvement (IPI) I discussed the challenges of the performance management processes. I also acknowledged that it’s not easy to explain what performance improvement actually means. I am choosing in this blog to kind of “ignore” that fact for now for the sake of discussing what can or needs to be done to truly drive performance improvement.

One of the biggest problems with IPI and driving an effective performance management process (PMP) is that many organisations preach win/win, but reward win/lose (Covey, 1999). They talk the talk of collaboration, but instead walk the walk of rewarding competition. And that’s where they most likely go wrong. Walking the proper walk is a paradigm shift that’s needed to truly drive engagement and performance improvement.

Could it be true that a competitive performance system doesn’t work? Is it the case that a financial incentive at the end of the year in the form of a shiny Christmas bonus might not be the best way to motivate employees? The article Keeping up with the Karumes in The Economist showed that an incentive such as a monetary bonus only makes people happy in the very short-term. On top of that, because only a minority of employees in an organisation can/will receive such a bonus or an award, the majority of the employees will be left behind disappointed, discouraged, and demotivated (for one year anyway, by then they’ll go back to their happiness base level as well, so they might be able to regain some courage to “try again”). It’s one thing to further explore: What do employees need to truly strive to improve their performance? I will discuss this in another blog because it seems well worth exploring things like external versus internal motivation, well-being, and the influence of overall justice on job performance (for example Ryan & Deci, 2000 and Aryee et al., 2015) as it might offer some ‘aha moments’ on how to actually improve performance improvement.


With the current competitive environment comes a concomitant focus on results. It’s usually the results or so-called ‘impact’ (see my previous blog on this topic on what “impact” actually means and that it requires an organisation to ask the right questions first) that are being rewarded and that’s encouraging competitiveness. Am I being naïve or what? Isn’t the output, result, or outcome what counts in the end? Yes, of course it matters. Yes, of course it’s an important metric. But what kind of culture do you create if success is measured by results only? In such an environment you’ll get people who’ll try to deliver no matter what; sometimes to the detriment of their fellow workers or even the organisation as a whole! Doing this will most probably create a win/lose culture in the organisation. Some “winners” won’t focus on building relationships or trust. They won’t focus on learning and improving. They’ll focus on delivering, drooling at the thought of that big fat sausage waiting for them in the end. And they might kick some others over in order to get there, because if someone else ‘delivers’ it might be at the expense of their reward.

First, it would be helpful if employees actually can have faith in the performance data being reliable and accurate. For example, as Buckingham and Goodall suggest, the individual employee needs one-size-fits-one performance objectives with pre-defined criteria based on her/his strategically timed discussions (see the previous blog on this again) with the her/his direct manager. Also, collecting valid and reliable performance evidence would need to be ongoing and would need to be based on a wide variety of (near to) real-time resources, such as the results of an employee’s everyday tasks and assignments and assessments (e.g. serious games or sims), the amount of sharing that the person did with colleagues and the organisation, and so forth. This ‘aggregated evidence’ could be logged and analysed (i.e., recorded and measured) somewhere. In addition, the employee needs an opportunity for constant learning and improving, which will most likely include situations in which what has been learnt can be practised as well as regular constructive and formative feedback (from peers, manager. clients, her-/himself, etc.) as feedback is possibly the most crucial factor in any learning process (Van der Rijt et al., 2012). This way, employees can take responsibility for their performance improvement based on real-time on-the-job data.

I can you hear the snickering. I can see cynical HR people shake their heads in disbelief. They’ll most probably say one or more of the following things: “No way that’ll work!” “Most people only come to work to do their job and that’s that.” “The majority of our employees are not very motivated and certainly won’t go that extra mile at their own initiative”! “It’s only a minority that strive to be a bigger (wo)man than themselves.”

And yes, they might even be right. But the question that then needs to be asked is: Why do these ‘average’ employees not take initiative? Why don’t or won’t they walk that extra mile? Is it because it’s a simple fact of life that most people are average and will always be, whatever they do? There are probably many reasons why ‘average Janes or Joes don’t reach their full potential. These need to and will be explored in a separate blog as well.

What I’m trying to say is that the problem might be the system and not the people. Of course competitiveness has its place; compared to other organisations, compared to your last year’s results. As Covey (1999) puts it: “Win/win puts the responsibility on the individual for accomplishing specified results within clear guidelines and available resources. It makes a person accountable to perform and evaluate the results and provides consequences as a natural result of performance”
(p. 232).

Win/win is a win for all. So, why is hardly anyone truly applying this principle?

Ayree, S., Walumbrwa, F.O., Mondejar, R., & Chu, C.W.L., (2015). Accounting for the Influence of Overall Justice on Job Performance: Integrating Self-Determination and Social Exchange Theories. Journal of Management Studies, 52:2, 231-252. Retrieved from
Buckingham, M., & Goodall, A., (2015). Reinventing Performance Management. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from
Covey, S.R., (1999). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. London: Simon & Schuster.
Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L., (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78. Retrieved from
Van der Rijt, J., Van de Wiel, M.W.J., Van den Bossche, P., Segers, M.S.R., & Gijselaers, W.H., (2012). Contextual Antecedents of Informal Feedback in the Workplace. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 26, 233-257. Retrieved from

Job Opportunity – User Experience Researcher

Post: User Experience Researcher
Contract Duration: 9 Months
Department: Knowledge and Data Engineering Group (KDEG), School of Computer Science and Statistics
Salary: Researcher Scale at a point commensurate with qualifications and experience
Closing Date: Until Filled



Candidates are invited to apply for the position of: User Experience Researcher. This post will have the primary responsibility of designing and developing user interfaces for next generation eLearning demonstrators on web-based, mobile, and tablet platforms. The work will be conducted in collaboration with a dynamic, multi-disciplinary research team with the aim of developing innovative user interfaces for next-generation eLearning technologies.

Key elements of the role include:

  • Participate fully in the realisation of research projects from idea conception, through development to evaluation and user trials.
  • The design and development of user interfaces for web, mobile, and tablet platforms.
  • The integration of open-source and bespoke technology solutions into engaging and innovative user interfaces.
  • Working in a dynamic team with a willingness to take on new task and learn new skills.


  • Proven experience in UI design and development for web-based and mobile apps.
  • Experience prototyping mobile apps for mobile platforms (iOS, Android, etc).
  • 3+ years’ experience in web design using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JSON.
  • Proven graphical design experience.
  • Ability to design and conduct usability evaluations.
  • Excellent verbal communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Proven ability to prioritise own workload and work to exacting deadlines.
  • Flexible and adaptable in their approach to stakeholder needs.
  • Strong team player who is able to take responsibility to contribute to the overall success of the team.
  • Enthusiastic and structured approach to design and development.
  • Excellent problem solving abilities.
  • Desire to learn about new products, technologies and keep abreast of new product and technical developments.
  • Work well in both a team environment and independently


  • Experience with the development of eLearning software and/or knowledge of the pedagogical theories underpinning modern approaches to eLearning.
  • Experience with responsive web-frameworks e.g. Bootstrap, Foundation
  • Experience with visualisation libraries e.g. D3.js.
  • Experience working in a research driven working environment
  • Enthusiasm for the commercialisation of research.

Please Note: No expenses will be paid in travelling to interview.

Background to the Post

The Learnovate Centre is an Enterprise Ireland/IDA funded centre of excellence in eLearning. The centre brings together state of the art research in eLearning from our academic partners (Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, National University of Ireland Galway, and Waterford Institute of Technology) with the real world business problems of our industry partners. Through focusing on the following four research themes the centre aims to develop innovative industry led eLearning solutions to benefit the Irish eLearning industry.

  • Social and informal learning
  • Mobile and collaborative learning
  • Immersive learning
  • Metrics and assessment

As part of the Learnovate Centre team the User Interface Developer will work across multiple projects to develop innovative interfaces to maximize the usability and industry impact of the projects.

Department Summary
The School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin offers a high quality educational experience to undergraduate and postgraduate students along with exceptional research opportunities for professionals in the fields of computer science and statistics. The school is proud of its reputation as an innovative and energetic centre for study and research.
The research interests of the school are wide and varied, ranging from the theoretical to the practical. The schools researchers are at the cutting-edge of their disciplines, working on prestigious research projects with other professionals in their fields, and with access to significant public and private funding and industry support.

Trinity College Dublin
Founded in 1592, Trinity College Dublin is the oldest university in Ireland and one of the older universities of Western Europe. On today’s campus, state-of-the-art libraries, laboratories and IT facilities, stand alongside historic buildings on a city-centre 47-acre campus. Trinity College Dublin is currently ranked 43rd in the top world universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement Global University Rankings 2009 and 13th in Europe. Trinity College Dublin offers a unique educational experience across a range of disciplines in the arts, humanities, engineering, science and human, social and health sciences. As Ireland’s premier university, the pursuit of excellence through research and scholarship is at the heart of a Trinity education. TCD has an outstanding record of publications in high-impact journals, and a track record in winning research funding which is among the best in the country. TCD has developed significant international strength in its research in eight major themes which include globalisation; cancer; genetics; neuroscience; immunology and infection; communications and intelligent systems; nano and materials science as well as Irish culture and the creative arts. TCD aims to become the world reference point in at least one of these areas of research in the next 10 years

Application Procedure

Candidates are asked to submit a covering letter and a full CV to include the names and contact details of 3 referees (email addresses if possible), together with a link to an online portfolio of work to:

Dr Martyn Farrows, Centre Director,
Learnovate Centre, Unit 28, Trinity Technology and Enterprise Campus, Pearse Street, Dublin 2.
Tel: +353-1-896-4912


Please also CC application to:

Brenda McGuirk, Learnovate Centre, School of Computer Science, TCD