Consistent Positive Feedback is Important for When Things Are Going Bad

There’s a delicate balancing act in the game of providing feedback to your employees…or, at least, there should be.

Let‚Äôs illustrate why by taking a look into a scene I call: average day in corporate America.

Manager: Employee, can you do this for me?

Employee does the thing accurately and on time.

Manager: Employee, can you do this for me?

Employee does the thing accurately and on time.

Manager: Employee, can you do this for me?

Employee falters and does not complete the task accurately.

Manager: Employee, you‚Äôve done this incorrectly. Let‚Äôs discuss this more during your performance review.

End scene.

Unfortunately, this is a stripped down version of many team dynamics. If you don‚Äôt see the problem, you might be the cause of it. For those that are a part of the problem, here‚Äôs the crux: you have a manager asking for tasks to be completed, as a manager should, but the only feedback they provide on the substance of the work is when something goes wrong.

For a set up like this, when something does go wrong there’s a few different outcomes you as the manager can expect.

  • The employee keeps their mouth shut and swallows the bitter pill, letting resentment build in them until the burst.
  • The employee is lowest on the sensitivity scale and doesn‚Äôt seem to care (at which point, you might want to check for a pulse).
  • Or, most likely, when the employee finally receives feedback from their manager but it comes in the form of negativity, the manager gets confronted with the ultimate ‚Äúcheck yourself‚Äù phrase from their employee: ‚ÄúYou never tell me anything I‚Äôm doing right, and you only give me feedback when I‚Äôm doing something wrong.‚Äù

Why Managers Fail at Feedback

Without meaning to, leaders get lost in the day-to-day grind and forget that their people need guidance on fixing performance issues as much as they need positive reinforcement. This leaves employees feeling helpless and leaders caught off-guard when they finally do provide that feedback in its negative form and get pushback from their employees.

When things go right the majority of the time it‚Äôs easy to forget that it is indeed something to celebrate. Managers get used to things flowing smoothly, and therefore forget to take notice of how smoothly it is going. In forgetting to take notice of the positives occurring around them, the feedback for those positives stops. Then, feedback solely rears its ugly head when something happens to go wrong.

And now the manager has failed in their feedback. Not only has the employee done something wrong, but the manager has to pay for their sins in the form of pushback from their employees. Not only is there no positive feedback, but the negative feedback starts to lose its power, drowning in the frustration of the employee.

A small thank you goes a long way…

Fixing this problem isn‚Äôt hard, but it takes practice. All it involves is a simple occasional ‚Äúthank you‚Äù from manager to employee. I‚Äôm not saying managers need to give their employees shout-outs for every little task they accomplish, but it‚Äôs hard to ignore the fact that a small thank you does go a long way. A few times a week, try throwing a simple, ‚ÄúThanks, this is great work,‚Äù over the cubicle wall to your employees. Not only will your employees feel emboldened by knowing they are doing things right and it is appreciated, but with each positive feedback, you‚Äôll be inching your way towards a more receptive performance improvement feedback.

Life is all about balance, and in feedback it holds definitively true. Make your feedback overall more effective by giving it more often when things are going right, so that when the time comes and things are going wrong your employees accept it and attend to it rather than put up defenses.

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