“…you wouldn’t DARE.”

We recently hung Christmas stockings for our two boys…my cute and creative wife implemented a new idea this Holiday season; on one side of each stocking, “Nice” was stitched, on the other side, “Naughty” was featured. Depending on the particular behavior of the boys (or the particular mood of the parents), the stocking would be flipped to reflect their respective Christmas “status.”


For my 8-year old, his focus is squarely on keeping his stocking on the “Nice” side. There’s not a chore he won’t do, not a cross word uttered, not an attitude to be seen. He realizes already that his actions have a direct impact on the rewards available to him.

With our 11-year old, however, it’s a different matter…his comment to us when seeing the stockings? “Might as well put mine on Naughty, I know that’s where it will end up.”  Well played Sir. His mother immediately felt guilty (even though she had no reason to), and assured him that he was getting a clean slate between now and Christmas. Of course, being an 11-year old, that clean slate needs to be re-established about every 3 hours.

You see what happened here, right? An 11-year old boy brilliantly manipulated the feelings of his Mom by taking advantage of the time (and Spirit) of the year. He knows Santa isn’t going to leave him a sack of coal (please tell me I’m not the only person who feared coal his whole life?), so he’ll play along with our silly game knowing full well that he can turn on the charm when he needs to insure a good haul.

Human nature gives us the ability to empathize and sympathize with those around us. It can also betray us at times when our emotional component over-rides our ability to make rational decisions.

All over Corporate America, performance reviews are being composed and merit dollars awarded in preparation for the Annual Review process. And, just like Mom, many business leaders are compromising their standards of annual performance in a mis-guided attempt to embrace the Holiday Spirit. No one wants to deliver bad news or criticism at this time of year, especially those discussions that may threaten financial or professional futures. Benefits of the doubt are given; second chances, free passes, stays of execution; whatever we call it, the result is the same – the “Naughty List” is given “Nice List” status. Performance Management, indeed, bah humbug.

Keep this in mind as you make your performance decisions this year. Despite the Goodwill you may temporarily buy with the “Naughty” list, consider the message you’re sending the “Nice.” At some point, you’re going to have a pretty ticked-off 8-year old on your hands.

John “Whit” Whitaker is the Founder and Managing Partner of HR Hardball™. He’s currently on the “Nice” list, but realizes the slippery existence he lives! To send Mr. Knows-it-All an email, or to submit your own thoughts for publishing on this site: