Crowdsourcing Performance: Is the Wisdom of Crowds All That Wise?

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The annual performance review is broken. We all know this. I’ve written about the reasons why (too infrequent, given from one point of view) several times.

The solution? Applying the wisdom of the crowds to performance management (and not through a forced 360-degree review process, but through a more natural mechanism).

How does this work? This fun (if a bit juvenile) video from the TV show Nova on the U.S.’s public broadcasting station explains how the wisdom of crowds works:

Crowd wisdom and performance management

The video explains the initial research on the wisdom of crowds that began with 800 attendees to a county fair in England guessing the weight of an ox. The result? “While no individual guessed the actual weights, the average of all the guesses is exactly right.”

Experts on the show go on to explain (at about the 3:00 mark):

The average will generally be better than a randomly selected individual guess. The average of the masses assures of success. And the more guesses we throw in, the more likely we are to get the right answer.”

That’s where the wisdom of the crowds becomes applicable to performance management. Instead of relying on a single manager (or a small, pre-selected group of people for 360-degree feedback), rely on the masses instead. Instead of “guessing” at an employee’s performance, everyone else in the organization can contribute their feedback through timely, specific and very detailed recognition of others for demonstrating your core values while contributing to achieving your strategic objectives.

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Gathering the bits? That’s the tricky part

Taking this a step further, listen closely for this expert comment in the video:

If you have a group of people and they each of have tiny bits of information, then you can learn a lot if you can just gather all of those bits together.”

Gathering all those bits of feedback together is the tricky part. That’s where a system comes in to not only aggregate and report on that feedback in one place, but to also correlate the crowdsourced feedback to more formal performance management processes. Blending the traditional managerial feedback and review process with the wisdom of crowds leads us to optimum solution to performance management in the 21st century.

Do you apply the wisdom of crowds to performance management in your organization?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


2 Comments on “Crowdsourcing Performance: Is the Wisdom of Crowds All That Wise?

  1. Derek – As you well know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is defined as insanity. If I interpret your post correctly, you are taking the ‘crowdsourcing’ feedback (the more feedback the better) and applying it to traditional performance management apparati. You said it yourself: “The annual performance review is broken”. And it isn’t just the dreaded meeting between the reviewer and the reviewee that is failing; it’s a systemic issue, I believe, that’s outdated and becoming increasingly irrelevant. The paradigm surrounding PM needs to change, starting with the notion that one can ‘manage’ another’s performance.

    The concept behind crowdsourcing has an important place in the process of helping employees be successful, but to force fit it into a failing system defeats the advantages of such a concept.

    I subscribe to the TLNT blogs because it’s supposed offer cutting, if not bleeding, edge practices in the HR arena. You’ve come the closest to that standard. That said, it would be way cool if contributors to this medium would offer more prospective thoughts; rather than looking at what exists today, I’d love to read what they believe the future looks like. It will be here before we know it.


  2. Years ago, I worked for a small organization that had no formal appraisal process, and I didn’t receive much in the way of formal feedback on my performance. So I did my own “crowdsourcing” of sorts. I met with each of my coworkers one-on-one, and I asked them to give me some relevant, meaningful feedback on how to improve. Guess what I heard? Each person took the time to tell me one thing that he or she did better than I did! And what did I do with that information? I applied the feedback I received from these subject-matter experts, and I got better. In fact, within two years I oversaw the department. No, traditional appraisal systems aren’t perfect, but if you want to accelerate performance, increase the data points of your feedback. Don’t listen to you fans or your detractors exclusively; rather, listen to all of them.

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