Have you told an employee what a great job he/she is doing recently? Have you received positive feedback for going above and beyond in the past month? Have you overheard others in your organization praise someone for doing more than was expected?
Positive feedback has long been recognized as a critical element in high performing workplaces. During these tough economic times, when job security has vanished and employee trust in their employers has sunk to an all-time low, it has become more important than ever.
Interestingly enough, one of the greatest problems with positive feedback is that many managers don’t feel comfortable giving it. It takes too long, feels insincere or “too soft”, or it just gets in the way of day-to-day activities. Some managers don’t like discussing another person’s behavior, or giving feedback just “isn’t their style.” Yet, few actions will do more to build trust and boost morale than ongoing, sincere feedback of a positive nature.
Humans have an innate need to seek feedback on how we are doing. Without it, people tend to make up information — almost always negative — to fill the void. Giving positive feedback helps to prevent destructive “information gaps,” and strengthens relationships between employees and their supervisors. It also leads to improved work quality, increased accountability and a higher-performing work environment.
Positive feedback starts with knowing when and how to praise employees. Specifically, it involves recognizing and praising employees for particular behaviors and accomplishments that go beyond the everyday expectations of their jobs.
For example, praise employees when they:
- Turn a difficult customer into a promoter
- Reach new levels of accuracy
- Produce more than the amount produced by any predecessor
- Develop or contribute significantly to another colleague
- Create a new process, product or approach
- Present an idea for doing something differently (even if the idea is not implemented)
- Do an exceptional job of influencing internally or externally
- Excel at a presentation
- Participate significantly in a community event on behalf of the company
The idea is to let employees know that you are paying attention and that you appreciate their efforts. Taking a few moments to express your appreciation can have a powerful impact on employees’ self-esteem and their attitudes toward their work and the organization as a whole.
To maximize the impact of your positive feedback, make it:
- Immediate. Give the recognition as soon as possible after the event.
- Specific. State specifically what the person did that met or exceeded your expectations.
- Impactful. Explain how the event or behavior affected you, the team or the organization.
- Encouraging. Focus on the positive only. Be appreciative without mentioning other things that might need to change or be adjusted. These should be saved for times when you are giving constructive feedback.
- Focused. State how the performance or action was positive and contributed to success. This will help prevent other messages, often made up, from taking the employee off track.
For example, “Susan, I really appreciated the way you stepped up to the plate and filled in on the XYZ contract when Richard was out with the flu. Your efforts helped us land a new customer that should increase sales by 10% over the next year.” Or, “Paul, nice job on the presentation today. You got the message across in a way that enabled everyone to have a much better understanding of our objective and why it is important.”
Most of all, positive feedback must be sincere. Never give positive feedback unless you mean it. And don’t praise employees for showing up on time or doing the basics of their job. Employees have very accurate “b.s. detectors,” and will quickly see through any false praise. Insincere positive feedback will just make recipients wonder what your real agenda is or what you are trying to hide. And the next time you give legitimate praise it will have far less impact.
Also, the time has come to jettison the “sandwich” technique, whereby you say something positive, sneak in something you want the employee to do differently, and then finish with a positive. For years, this approach was used to soften the impact of critical feedback, and it worked reasonably well with Baby Boomer and Traditionalist workers.
Gen-Xers, however, quickly saw through this strategy and openly questioned the hidden agenda behind the positive feedback. And the youngest generation, the Millennials, are so accustomed to direct (and often brutal) feedback that they see no point in wasting time by trying to sneak positive feedback into a constructive feedback conversation.
So keep your positive feedback positive, focus on specific events and behaviors that exceed your expectations, and let employees know how much you appreciate their efforts. You’ll improve morale and enhance trust while encouraging higher levels of performance. And today’s stressed-out employees will appreciate your efforts to meet their workplace needs.