The power of positive feedback

Keith Tatley

Employee performance feedback - who wants it?

Giving your staff negative feedback can be stressful for both you and them. Let’s face it no-one likes being told what they’re doing wrong. And who likes confrontation.


Why be so negative?

What if you could use positive feedback to fix an employee performance problem? Sounds a little crazy I know, so I’m going to tell you a little motivational story

Giving effective feedback is one of the essential manager skills. If you’re a manager looking to improve employee performance with better communication find out more here:

The Power of Positive Feedback

Picture carol - the problem employee

This is the common scenario many managers face: Carol, a receptionist, has recently been late for work.

So this story starts with a minor performance infraction, are you a manager who has experienced something similar? I know I have, and I know that when this happens, I start evaluating my options. Some of the things that go through my head include:

  • This is a minor issue that doesn’t justify a long performance discussion. I’m busy enough as it is, so I’ll wait and see if it becomes an issue,
  • Carol already knows what her start time is, she doesn’t need me to remind her and
  • I don’t want to seem petty, get into an argument and end up with Carol disliking me

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

In this story what happens is that Carol's manager hesitates to address this (minor) employee performance problem. The “reasons” above become excuses to avoid dealing with the issue. As a result, someone else must stop what they are doing and cover the front desk until she arrives. Her behavior affects members of the team.

Worse, by not addressing her tardiness, this manager is sending the message that they condone this behaviour.

Performance management - a different way

In a parallel universe, Carol’s manager does something different. No, they don’t undertake the unpleasant task of calling Carol into their office for a serious talking to about punctuality. Instead they does something incredibly easy and simple. They starts giving a particular type of positive feedback when Carol does something right:

  • “Good morning Carol. I like seeing you at the desk when I arrive because then I know there is someone here to greet our customers.”
  • “Good morning Carol, I’m glad to see you on the desk. I want you to know that your work on reception is important to the whole team to keep everything running smoothly. I appreciate that. Can you please keep that up?” 
  • “Good morning Carol. I’m glad to see you here before start time – now I know I don’t have to worry about covering reception. Can you please continue with that?”


So as you can see, the manager:

  • Hasn’t said anything unpleasant or got involved in an unpleasant confrontation,
  • Hasn't delayed their feedback until annual performance review and
  • Hasn't even spent a long time giving performance feedback.

They is using secret ninja manager skills to fix a problem.

Effective performance feedback. The power of words:

These simple words have a very powerful employee engagement and job satisfaction effect:

  1. Feeling Valued & Acknowledged: The manager has let Carol that they are aware of the contribution that Carol makes, they appreciate the work she does and she is valued,
  2. Doing Important Work: The manager has told Carol how her work is part of a larger whole. Even though many people might think that a receptionist is a low-level role, the manager is helping Carol to find the value and meaning in her work
  3. A Sense of Belonging: The manager has shown Carol how she is an important part of the team. They have shown her that she has a role that others rely on her to do. This helps people to feel like an important part of a community and to feel accepted,
  4. Increasing Performance: And if you look carefully, you’ll also see that the manager has asked Carol to commit to coming in on time in the future. This isn’t just praise because effective feedback motivates employees to make a positive future change

Performance results and other benefits

So what do you think will be the result of these words of encouragement. With that sort of consistent performance feedback, do you think it’s likely that Carol will be late in the future? Based on what other managers have experienced. This sort of positive feedback doesn't just fix individual problems. This positive feedback increases employee motivation, increases employee engagement and employee retention. This is because acknowledgement, feeling valueddoing meaningful work and having a sense of belonging are strong drivers of employee satisfaction, employee engagement and staff retention.

And by improving employee engagement all aspects of performance improve, not just the little things.

Managing by exception is a management excuse

The “Manage by Exception” management technique is where the manager keeps an eye on things and only performance manages problems. But the problem is if you only give feedback when your employees do something wrong then the only feedback that you give is negative.

All this negative feedback is destroying your employee relations. If you are consistently negative and critical, no wonder employees don't like you or want to listen to you. Dr Gottman's magic ratio for healthy relationships is 5 times as many positive interactions as negative. Healthy employee relations doesn't mean making your employees like you as a friend, Healthy employee relations means respect and good communications. Positive feedback builds employee engagement.

“About 90% of the things in our life are right. Make sure you don’t overlook the 90% of things that are right because you are focusing on the 10% of things that aren’t.”

— Dale Carnegie


Positive feedback isn't only for positive performance

There is a misconception that positive performance feedback is only for good performance. But as I’ve shown above, you can and should use positive performance feedback to also fix employee performance issues. This works for employee performance issues large and small. And regular performance communication is one of the tools that successful managers use to get results. In fact the real technique isn’t just to use feedback when you have a performance problem. As a manager if you communicate regularly and frequently about performance your employees will be more engaged.


What about you?

Are you a manager responsible for the performance of your employees? Is there a performance issue that you wish your employees would pay more attention to? Find out How to Use Positive Feedback to Fix Performance Problems here.

I hope that you have enjoyed this motivational story and that you are inspired to use positive feedback with your staff. 

Relevant supporting skills:

Manager Foundation specializes in the skills that managers need to know to create a healthy, productive and satisfying work environment. Giving effective performance communication is an essential manager skill because it supports you to be an effective manager in your other management duties:

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