Workplace psychology idol Adam Grant recently stirred up a social media brouhaha with his uncharacteristic tweet bemoaning students who expect credit for their effort. He insists that students earn A’s for excellence, not effort. Some thought leaders, including Kaleana Quibell on LinkedIn, astutely drew parallels between academic and workplace merit systems.

The usually insightful Adam Grant in this case demonstrates naïveté.

Academic grading is notoriously flawed. In the seminal article, Teaching More by Grading Less, Schinske and Tanner review the evidence on grading and conclude:

In summary, grades often fail to provide reliable information about student learning. Grades awarded can be inconsistent both for a single instructor and among different instructors for reasons that have little to do with a students’ content knowledge or learning advances.

They go as far as encouraging the integration of effort-based grading into achievement-based systems:

The entirety of students’ grades need not be based primarily on work that rewards only correct answers, such as exams and quizzes. Importantly, constructing a grading system that rewards students for participation and effort has been shown to stimulate student interest in improvement.

Along similar lines, those who responded to Grant by arguing that workplace recognition and rewards are based on merit are living in a fantasy world. Managers often dole out rewards (such as promotions and salary increases) based on favoritism, hunches, and their own self-interests — the same criteria known to lead to doomed hiring decisions.

What’s more, suggesting that workplace recognition is based on merit defies evidence showing the influence of race, gender, disability status, and LGBTQ status. As a recent article in Nature reported:

A large, comprehensive study reveals what privilege looks like in science: straight, white men who are not disabled get more pay, greater respect and a wealth of career opportunities compared with all other groups.*

Diversity, equity, and inclusion — organizations love it until it necessitates a change in how they do things.

You may not like people asking to get A’s for effort, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is getting them for achievement.

I’ve corrected Professor Grant’s tweet to more accurately reflect the psychological safety, kindness, open communication, and commitment to evidence he promotes in most of his work:

Adam Grant tweet about grading for achievement rather than effort (with mock edits)

*Cech, E. A. (2022). The intersectional privilege of white able-bodied heterosexual men in STEM. Science advances, 8(24), eabo1558.