The art of giving positive feedback: 7 simple tips

Giving feedback is an important legal and practical management task—and certainly not an easy one.

Many managers make the mistake of dishing out feedback only when employees do something wrong. But praise can also be an effective motivational tool, if used correctly. Here are seven guidelines to follow:

1. Show enthusiasm. Praise won’t motivate if it sounds like you don’t mean it, or you’re saying it just because it’s your job as a manager to praise periodically.

2. Be unpredictable. When employees come to expect praise only at weekly staff meetings, this, too, will make it appear as though you’re merely doing your managerial duty.

3. Be specific. Saying, “You did a great job researching those corporations and writing a thorough proposal” means more than “Nice job on the proposal.” This tells the employee what he or she did to deserve the praise, and what to do to earn it in the future.

4. Don’t always use praise to buffer criticism. It could weaken the critical message and future attempts to praise. Eventually, employees will ignore praise because they’re waiting for the bad news to come. They may also find the praise insincere if they think you’re just saying it to help wash down negative criticism.

5. Know your employees. You’ll discover how praise can be a more effective tool when you figure out how each employee prefers to receive positive feedback, and then act accordingly.

6. Know when & where to praise. With personalized praising, one risk is the perception of inconsistency by other employees.

Suppose you praise Kevin to the hilt at a departmental lunch, and then praise Megan behind closed doors. Even if the two employees prefer those different communication methods, you could appear to be favoring one over the other.

What to do: Develop a standard method of praise, which you can add a personal touch to. Example: Write up both employees’ accomplishments in the company newsletter (this way, Kevin gets to be put in the spotlight, while Megan avoids being put on the spot).

7. Use secondhand praise. Pass on any compliments you hear about your employees, especially from higher-ups. Indirect comments can be even more powerful than direct praise.

Feedback methods to avoid

The best feedback either elicits a change for the better, or keeps good behavior steady. Watch out for the following trouble spots that will put a damper on achieving those results.
  • Feedback that embarrasses, punishes or demeans the recipient. Example: Monthly recognition of the lowest sales worker.
  • Feedback that covers something over which the recipient has no control.  Example: Sales are down due to bad weather.
  • Feedback that comes too late to act on it. Example: Editorial comments made after a report is distributed.
  • Feedback that is focused on the wrong factors. Example: A procedure that strays from the departmental norm, but gets comparable results.
  • Feedback that is based on false information. Example: Rumors of an employee’s poor attitude.

Use this ‘Memo to Managers‘ article to educate your supervisors. Paste the content into an e-mail, company newsletter or other communication. Edit as desired.

Managers not handing out praise? The 7 most common excuses

When it’s honest and genuine, positive feedback can do wonders to improve an employee’s productivity and morale. But some managers who are quick to dish out critiques are stingy with the congratulations. Check to make sure you’re not guilty of any of these excuses:

1. “I’m too busy.”

Look for something to praise in every employee each week. Put it on your to-do list if that will help.

2. “Someone else is taking care of it.”

Never make that assumption, because “someone else” is assuming that you are doing it. Remember that you are your employees’ first line of praise, and the buck stops with you.

3. “They know how much I appreciate them.”

They don’t know unless you tell them.

4. “If it was that important to them, they’d say something.”

Most people won’t directly ask for your kudos. Don’t punish shy employees by ignoring their efforts.

5. “I have more important things to worry about.”

You must make praise important to yourself, because it certainly is to your employees.

6. “Sometimes they deserve reprimands more than praise.”

Then reprimand them. But don’t let past confrontations with employees cause you to overlook present opportunities to praise because the anger still lingers from previous infractions. Follow the fresh-start rule: Wipe the slate clean every week and give at least one deserved compliment.

7. “If I give an inch, they’ll take a foot.”

Do you fear that heaps of praise will cause employees to clamor for a raise? In fact, the opposite might happen. Employees may demand more money to make up for the lack of praise and recognition.