How to Use Positive Feedback to Offset the Bad
Ever notice how the word “feedback” makes people nervous? Think about how quickly we are to tell someone when things go wrong? That’s because we believe it’s important to let people know when we are frustrated or angry. We want action. Fix the problem, fire the employee, do whatever it takes to meet our expectations of how it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t seem as important when someone gets it right because they are already meeting our expectations. There’s nothing tangible in it for us so the opportunity simply passes us by. I beg to differ.
Think back to the last time you received really bad service. You probably complained to the supervisor and then told everyone you knew about your experience. You wrote reviews, you put it on social media, you got the word out. What about the last time you received great customer service? Did you ask for a supervisor then? I’m betting you didn’t.
Now, put yourself in that supervisor’s shoes. How often do you tell an employee when they mess up? You probably call poor Carol into the office and said something like: “Hey Carol, I’m really disappointed in your work lately.” You then give her some specific feedback and end with: “so I’m going to issue a written warning and hopefully we can get you back on track because you’re a really good employee and we don’t want to lose you”. This is a common scene in today’s workplace. When Carol leaves she’s thinking that she could lose her job if she doesn’t get her act together. She’s probably angry, scared and frustrated. How do you think this affects work for the rest of the day?
I’m not saying that the discussion and the subsequent write up is it warranted. But I am saying that if this is the only feedback Carol gets to hear about her work performance it may be hard to correct at this point.
Balancing Your Feedback to Motivate
Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, talks about “catching people doing things right”. I cannot begin to tell you how important this is. We forget to celebrate the things that do work but continuously punish the things that don’t. This unbalanced feedback can result in continued poor performance and poor morale that slowly spreads throughout your organization. It’s not rocket science. The better people feel about their jobs the better job they do.
Let’s get back to Carol. She’s mad and ready to quit because she’s pretty sure you don’t think she can do anything right. But what happens when she does things the correctly (because no one screws up 100% of the time and stays employed)? Do you stop and say “Hey Carol I noticed that you been doing great work these days and I want to thank you for all the things you do to help us succeed. I’ll make sure it’s noted in your personnel file. Again thanks”? If you do, Carol may be more apt to step up and get her performance back on track. Why? Simple, it’s because your feedback is balanced. Carol has no option but to believe that your critique is solely about her work and has nothing to do with how you feel about her personally.
When dealing with difficult employees, I often encourage my clients to document the conversations by sending a confirming email referencing the discussion. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to do the same when they do something great? Think about it this way: when you continuously catch them doing things wrong, they begin to watch their backs. When you start catching them doing things right, they start watching yours.