Knowing how to effectively give positive feedback is a powerful tool to develop employee skills and talent. Yet leaders on the front lines, middle management, and upper tiers of organizations often overlook positive feedback and reinforcement, or are unsure or uncomfortable giving it.

Why Positive Feedback Is Important

As the people responsible for translating corporate goals into actions, managers spend a lot of time and focus correcting gaps in employee performance. In the midst of coaching staff to improve areas of weakness, they often neglect to recognize outstanding performance. 

Perhaps they consider it unnecessary in a company culture where excellence is expected. Or maybe they just tend to focus on what needs to be fixed and overlook what is working well. But the effects of not giving positive feedback can be detrimental to any team. Over time it can erode morale and make top performers feel their hard work is unnoticed. When that happens, employees who typically exceed expectations may stop going the extra mile. 

Those of us who work in the training and development arena can help managers to understand the power of positive feedback. The best way is to emphasize this simple truth: If you want to see more of a particular action or behavior, you should let your employees know what it is they are doing that you appreciate and why. In other words, it is about identifying specific employee actions and behaviors and then tying them to the results you want to see for your team or business.

What Good Performance Feedback Looks Like

Many managers confuse recognition with positive feedback. You can include recognition along with positive feedback, but they are really two different things. Recognition lets employees and their coworkers know they are doing a good job. Feedback, on the other hand, informs employees about the actions they took that worked. 

It’s fine to say “good job,” but that does not help employees know what behaviors that should be doing more or less often. When managers include the “why” piece, it motivates the employee to repeat the behavior. Be specific—not only about what they did, but why it is important. For instance, you might say, “the customer felt really good about your (specific behavior or action). They were very happy and are going to keep using us, which will translate into significant continued revenue.”

Look for what is working well with the same amount of focus you would use to identify performance gaps. Write down the specific actions employees are taking that are leading to positive results. When you share positive feedback, make sure you vary your praise so that it is not always about the same actions or behaviors. Otherwise it can become redundant and not as powerful.

Never use positive feedback in order to deliver constructive criticism. Some managers will find anything positive to say about an employee so they will feel more comfortable giving criticism. Doing this, though, dilutes the power of both. Keep them separate. 

Bottom Line

Positive feedback is about motivating employees to keep doing the things that help a business to grow and thrive. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

Make a List of the actions and behaviors you see in employees that contribute to good performance.
Be Specific about the behaviors and actions you want to reinforce, not only about what the employee did, but why it is important.
Relate it to business results, such as customer or client satisfaction, increased revenues or repeat business.
Get clear on the difference between recognition and positive feedback. Recognition lets employees and others know they are doing a good job, while feedback informs them about what they did that works.
Don’t mix positive feedback and constructive feedback (criticism). When it is warranted, deliver genuine positive feedback, not to soften constructive feedback.

Positive feedback is a tool managers can use to get employees doing the things that impact the business in the right way. What’s more, when done correctly, it motivates employees to keep doing the right things.  

If you want to hear more about the art of appreciation, join us for a webcast on September 25 on Appreciation in the Workplace or check out one of our best selling books: Connection Culture.