B.F. Skinner taught us that if we want people to repeat good behaviors, then we need to provide positive reinforcement. In today's busy business world, it can be easy to get caught up in emails, meetings, and reports and forget the importance of providing feedback to employees who are doing great work.
"No news is good news" isn't a workable management philosophy.
Dealing with poor performance is a given. But dealing with great performance should be as important, if not more so. It's essential for employee morale and engagement to have positive feedback sessions.
These should be planned with the same care as conversations designed to improve performance.
Here are the five steps to communicating positive feedback to employees:
1. Establish the purpose of the conversation
I'm not opposed to an occasional "great job", but this is about escalating those moments.
Plan the discussion. Set a specific date, time, and place for the conversation.
The employee will know it's important when the meeting is treated as intentional, specific, and special. It sends the message to the entire organization that good performance is valuable and will be recognized appropriately.
2. Describe the positive behavior or performance. Explain the importance of this behavior
We go to great lengths to document poor performance.
We should go to equally great lengths to document great performance.
Get the details. When you share these with the employee, they will realize the effort you took to find out the specifics.
Ever hear an employee say, "My manager doesn't know what I do."? Well, this action tells the employee you really do know what they do (and not just the negative stuff).
After sharing the details, take an extra moment to tell the employee why their excellent performance matters. Making the connection between employee performance and company goals creates engagement.
3. Ask the employee the reasons for their success
To me, this is the most important step. Find out how the employee was able to accomplish the task/project/work/etc. Don't let the employee off the hook with an "Oh gosh, I don't know...I just did the work."
The employee's answer is important. If the company is ever faced with a challenge in this area, you have an employee who has overcome that challenge and knows how they did it. The employee has potentially solved a problem you might have in the future. But if you don't ask the question, you'll never know.
Often, employees can be reluctant to toot their own horn when it comes to their performance. Be prepared to ask a few questions like, "How did you figure out that XX was the problem?" or "What did you do to manage XX and your normal workload at the same time?"
Also, become comfortable with some silence. Giving the employee time to think might help them open up and provide some valuable insights.
4. Listen actively and empathetically
This discussion should not be rushed. There's a real opportunity to strengthen the working relationship and gain some employee insight into the work environment by simply taking the time to really listen.
Be prepared in case the employee has some questions for you. Even if you don't know the answers right away, you can always follow-up with the employee later.
5. Thank the employee and express your confidence in their continued success
Wrap-up the conversation by letting the employee know how much you appreciate their work.
Don't detract from the positive message by using this meeting as a way to add more work assignments or mention a minor mishap. The purpose of this meeting should be focused and positive.
Send all the right messages when communicating feedback
Planning and discussing positive performance with employees sends all the right messages in the organization.
It tells employees that management values them and their work. And for managers, it feels good to have a positive conversation versus a negative one.
Just imagine what our organizations would be like if we had more positive feedback conversations.
Your Turn: When was the last time you gave or received positive feedback? Tell us about the impact.