Performance Appraisal Encourages a ‘Fixed’ Mind-Set

Performance appraisals are carried out with differing degrees of success across organisations but they tend to follow the same formula. Employees are assessed on an annual/twice per year, basis against competencies agreed at the start of the financial year. This type of appraisal reflects a fixed mind-set approach and is likely to facilitate ‘Fixed Mind-Set thinking.


What is a Fixed Mind-Set Approach?

The concept of ‘Fixed Mind-sets’ and ‘Growth Mind-Sets’ comes from work carried by a psychologist called Carole Dweck. Her research established that these two mind-sets have different characteristics. A Fixed Mind-set’ approach rewards outputs rather than effort and ignores the process by which the outcomes were achieved. It also assumes that people’s abilities are static. A ‘Growth Mind-Set’ approach, on the other hand, views abilities as being more fluid and rewards effort invested as well as outputs. In addition, a ‘Growth Mind-Set’ encourages staff to stretch and challenge themselves whilst seeing learning opportunities instead of failure.

There is emerging research demonstrating that staff and managers with a ‘Growth Mind-Set’ are more successful in what they do, so perhaps we should be carrying out performance appraisals  in a way that facilitates a’ Growth Mind-Set’ as opposed to the ‘Fixed Mind-Set’ approach that currently dominates appraisal.


The existing ‘Fixed Mind-Set’ approach to performance appraisal is more likely to encourage the same ‘Fixed Mind-Set’ in managers and staff.

1, The Manager’s Mind-Set

Encouraging managers to focus success and reward giving on annual outputs encourages a ‘Fixed Mind-Set’ approach, which results in Managers believing that the abilities/capabilities of staff are static and unchanging over time. Consequently, managerial expectations of staff and what they can achieve will impact on their ability to agree challenging objectives with their staff.  Objectives set, are likely to be of a similar level to previous objectives with those staff who are seen as  ‘better’ performers (perhaps) being encouraged to set more challenging objectives. In addition, the research suggests that managers with Fixed Mind-Sets are less likely to notice when a poor performer performs well or when a good performer performs below average. This means that their beliefs about staff abilities are unlikely to be challenged or change. In fact, the research suggests that ‘Fixed Mind-Set’ managers actively resist changing their opinion of staff abilities, even when confronted with evidence. So, how do we ensure that employees are really stretched and challenged?

2, The Actual Appraisal

The concept of rewarding objectives that have been achieved is a ‘Fixed Mind-Set ‘approach, in that it fails to consider the effort put into trying to achieve the objectives. Sometimes during difficult times or when working with complex objectives, we can put massive amounts of effort into trying to make them happen and still fail, through no fault of our own. How motivating is then to be advised that we are only receiving an ‘average/poor’ appraisal mark because we did not actually achieve the objective? No one is suggesting that we reward staff for not achieving but perhaps we should be recognising and rewarding those staff who go all out to try and achieve. So how can we recognise and reward effort alongside ability?

3, Attitudes to failure

If we only reward staff for objectives that they achieve, then we encourage staff to see the non-achievement of these objectives as a failure. It would be more productive to encourage staff to see these situations as an opportunity to learn, which could stand them in good stead with future objectives. This suggests a different attitude towards appraisal, where objectives are not solely seen in terms of success for failure but in terms of what new learning has taken place. So how do we encourage staff to learn from situations?

4, Attitudes to Challenge and Risk

A performance appraisal process that only rewards objectives achieved runs the risk of encouraging staff not to challenge themselves in case they fail to achieve the objectives. Agreeing   objectives with little challenge is a safer option for staff.  It is less beneficial, however, to the individual, in terms of their personal growth and development and less beneficial to the organization in terms of lost opportunities.

Rethinking Appraisal


Adopting a ‘Growth Mind-Set’ approach to performance appraisal could encourage greater levels of creativity and achievement. It would encourage managers and staff to adopt a ‘Growth Mind-Set and facilitate a culture of  performance appraisal focused on effort and learning alongside achievement.

1, A Growth Mind-Set approach to performance appraisal would reward efforts made to achieve objectives and not just the objectives per se

2, A Growth Mind-Set approach to performance appraisal would encourage managers to adopt a Growth Mind-Set in how they view and appraise the skills of their staff, this would include building the confidence of staff and encouraging them to choose appraisal objectives which they believe will truly challenge them.  Heslin and Vandawalle, (2008) suggest that cues for managers to adopt a growth mindset could be built into performance evaluation systems. Clues could include various reminders (written, verbal, video based) to managers who conduct performance appraisals, that all employees can further develop their skills over time, with coaching and support.  Heslin and Vandawalle also suggest that managers “could be held accountable for employee coaching and for their responsiveness to actual employee performance change”.

Does your performance appraisal process encourage a ‘Growth’ Mind-Set or a ‘Fixed’ one?