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Performance improvement: When do employees learn from others’ success stories?

Ryan W. Quinn, PhD D.M. Cumberland S.A. Kerrick
Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance. February 1, 2019

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Purpose. Employees often improve at work by learning from others who have been successful. They learn by hearing their stories. However, the number of stories, task type and context all affect learning. The purpose of this paper is to examine how the number of stories they hear, the type of task they are learning to perform and their performance in the task to date all affect performance improvement. Design/methodology/approach. The authors examine how task complexity and recent performance relative to others influence the relationship between the number of success stories a person reads and their subsequent performance. The authors used a sample of order processing employees from a label manufacturing company to test our hypotheses. Findings. The authors find that in complex tasks, subsequent performance is highest when people read a small number of stories, and lowest when people read no stories or too many stories. In simple tasks, the authors find that when people have average recent performance, more stories leads to lower performance, but when recent performance is high or low, more stories increases subsequent performance.