Positive Feedback– Without Giving It, You’re Failing

This post has also been mirrored on Linkedin and Medium.

It’s no secret that I am a super big fan of Positively Focused Leadership. I love building and developing teams, coaching and mentoring individuals, and growing my business through a positive focus on balancing and utilizing the strengths of my team. Of course, there are some unconvinced and skeptical managers out there who may not immediately see the benefits of this kind of leadership. To those managers I beg: give your teams some positive feedback or find yourself failing.

Recently, I read a great article from HBR on “Why… So Many Managers Avoid Giving Praise?” (https://hbr.org/2017/05/why-do-so-many-managers-avoid-giving-praise) and I had to admit that I was shocked by the data. I have known for some time now by personal observation that a lot of managers either do not give any feedback or what is given is criticism. What I was surprised to see was the amount of managers that (either actively or passively) avoided giving positive reinforcement to their subordinates! Thirty-seven percent of the respondents in HBR’s self-assessment admitted to the deficiency.

If we are doing our job effectively as team leaders, we are guiding our teams to perform by supporting each individual in their personal path. That means for high performers, we are guiding them to maintain productivity and encouraging skill growth for their next level in the organization. For mid-level performers, we are helping them grow their level of productivity to achieve expert skill level. For under performers, we as managers are helping introduce them to and gain understanding of the tasks for the position so that they can grow into competent team members. The word consistently used among all three types is “grow.” In this sense, growing is learning, improving, and mastering one’s skills, and the important step to all of these processes is feedback.

Negative feedback is important, by all means. It serves as an informative process, which helps the receiver of the feedback to understand where they need to spend their efforts and offers insights into how they could improve performance, efficiency, or accuracy. Negative feedback, like most things however, has its own time and place… and audience. As a managing supervisor, it is our job to delicately balance the equation to apply this tool where appropriate. For example, a high performer or an expert will respond much better to negative feedback as a tool for honing their craft and performance. A novice, however, will find they are demotivated and disengaged following only negative feedback in their realm of uncertainty and they are less likely to handle the challenges of new and unfamiliar projects or skill-building.

In contrast, positive feedback will serve as a motivator across all skill levels in your organization. Again, this kind of response to your team members has it’s time and place and audience for maximum effectiveness, but even when used in combination with negative feedback, the positive component will increase the impact. It shows your team that you “have their back,” and that you are rooting for their success. Learning this skill as a supervisor helps your team increase engagement in the organization and their department, thus reducing your turnover for reasons related to emotional connection. Furthermore, a healthy dose of polished positive feedback encourages replication and even openness and willingness to accept a side of negative feedback or criticism.

comicfeedback048Offering positive feedback is crucial in the eyes of your team, but I can attest that many of us are not confident on delivery or even sure how to provide it sincerely. The following are a few approaches that you can being practicing with your team.

  1. If you see something, say something.
    Numerous studies indicate that the most effective kind of feedback is quickly timed rather than delayed. It may not always be possible to say it right in the moment, but giving yourself a shorter timeline to provide it benefits its sincerity and adoption.
  2. Be specific if you want it repeated.
    Just saying “good job” to your team member won’t work anymore. Use their name in the feedback and identify the specific behavior that you want replicated. Avoid lingering on the results because it is the behavior you want repeated, not always the specific result.
  3. Spread the love.
    Avoid singling out a favorite—or even the impression that there is one. Share positive feedback for behaviors with each of your team members individually instead of only focusing on a high performer.

Note that we usually rate ourselves higher on the scale of being effective at giving feedback, whether negative, positive, or mixed. HBR’s survey presented results that highlight that phenomenon, but also pointed to their team’s opinion that more effective managers give both positive and negative feedback. Managers that avoid positive feedback are seen as less effective among their peers, subordinates, and supervisors. If you aren’t committed to praising your team for their behaviors or actions, you aren’t seen as effectual or successful.