Examples of Positive, Effective Feedback in the Workplace
And Some Things You Should Never Say
Ken Blanchard, an author and management expert, once said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” That's all well and good, but what exactly is feedback and what's the best way to give it for the best results? Here are some examples of positive feedback, and some ineffective feedback examples you may want to steer clear of.
The Purpose of Feedback
The purpose of feedback is to reinforce positive behaviors that contribute to performance or eliminate negative behaviors that can detract from performance. Good employees need and want to know how they're doing, and effective managers work hard to master the art and process of conducting difficult conversations and offering meaningful praise.
Giving feedback is one of the most important parts of a manager’s job.
We all have our blind spots, and a manager who is focused on employee development can help open an employee’s eyes to those blind spots. He can coach employees on how to improve.
Effective, positive feedback should be:
- Specific: Get to the point. Don't drag other semi-related or similar incidents into the conversation. Focus on one event per conversation.
- Sincere: If you have a personality conflict with the individual, consider enlisting the help of another supervisor to pass on feedback rather than come off like you're giving praise grudgingly—or worse, that you're being overly harsh about a mistake.
- Timely: Address issues as they come up, not after negative habits become entrenched. Give the reward of appreciation soon after an employee has achieved something. The event will still be fresh in the employee's mind so he can put it in context and take the same approach again.
- Meaningful or behavioral: The feedback should directly address the job or how the individual is handling the job.
- Something the person can change: If change is a difficult challenge, offer suggestions or assistance at the very least. Get the employee to take the first step in the right direction.
Here are some common types of feedback, with good and bad sample word tracks for each.
Job Performance Feedback
Positive example: “Bill, you exceeded your production goal by 20 percent last week. Great job. That’s really going to help us meet our overall plant production and financial goals. How did you do it?”
Poor example: “Bill, I just noticed you exceeded your production goal last month. This month’s goal will be increased by 20 percent."
Poor example: "Bill, I noticed you exceeded your production goal last month. I hope this doesn't mean you're going to ask for a raise."
The first example shows an interest in Bill's skills, whereas Bill has not received any semblance of a reward for his exemplary production in the second or third responses. In fact, these two responses probably convinced him that he shouldn't bother to work so hard again.
Positive example: "Nancy, I noticed at the meeting this morning that you got defensive when your data was challenged during your presentation. When Amy asked a question about your calculations, you were short with her and told her she needs to trust that you know how to do your job. When you responded to her that way, she shut down for the rest of the meeting and seemed angry. You really need her support, and I’m wondering if you’ll have it now. What are your thoughts?"
Poor example: “Nancy, you snapped at Amy in last week’s meeting. You need to control your temper.”
Poor example: "Nancy, please try to leave your emotions at home. Your response to Amy was very unprofessional."
It's already been established that Nancy doesn't respond particularly well to criticism. You won't convince her to improve her behavior by criticizing her further. The first response enlists her help in remedying the situation.
Positive example: “Matt, I think you have leadership potential. You’ve demonstrated an ability to motivate teams, you can deal with ambiguity, and you're a quick study. Is leadership something you're interested in exploring?”
Poor example: “Matt, congratulations, I’m promoting you!”
Poor example: "It seems like you might be interested in more of a leadership role, but I think you need to focus on your current job responsibilities right now."
You've given no real input in the second response. Why are you promoting him? Give Matt something to build on and be proud of, such as is provided in the first response. The third response actually discourages Matt from honing those skills.
Positive example: “Lisa, I’ve heard and noticed that our new employees have been coming to you for advice on how to succeed in our culture. You seem to be developing a reputation as someone that really understands how we do things around here. That’s great. Thanks for helping them out, I really appreciate it. You’re a role model for our values, and I’m sure our newer employees value your advice.”
Poor example: “Lisa, you’re starting to develop a reputation as a complainer. Try to stay more positive.”
Poor example: "Lisa, please refrain from discussing personal issues with our new employees. This is a workplace. We don't have the time or the inclination to delve into cultural issues."
Employees respond to praise. The first example gives it. The second two responses could curtail behavior that's actually beneficial to your company, not to mention that they're demoralizing to the employee and will affect your own dynamics with her.
Feedback That Came From Others
Positive example: “Tom, I’ve gotten feedback from others in the department that you're being overly critical of them about their work. I haven't directly seen you do this myself, but I’m concerned that others have noticed and it bothered them enough that they came to me. Can you shed any light on this?”
Poor example: “Tom, I think you’re being too critical of your team members.”
Poor example: “Carly and Jeff have complained to me about your being too harsh with them. What’s going on with that? Is this true?”
Although the first and third examples both attempt to find out why Tom is being so critical, only the first response makes it a workplace problem, not an accusation leveled solely at Tom.
Feedback About a Suspected Personal Problem
Positive example: “Ann, I’ve noticed that you haven't been yourself the last two weeks. You made two significant errors on your last two proposals, you missed an important deadline, and when we met yesterday, you didn’t seem to be paying attention to me. I had to repeat myself twice. I’m concerned because this isn’t like you at all. If there’s something going on in your life, I realize that it might be private and none of my business, but I’m concerned that it’s impacting your job. Is there anything I can do?"
Poor example: “Ann, are you and your husband having problems?”
Poor example: "You were a lot better at your job before you started having personal problems. What's going on?"
Note that the first approach did not try to identify the personal problem. The employee would feel respected that her privacy was being honored. Stick to addressing job performance, and offer assistance if you can. Make a referral to an Employee Assistance Program if you have one available.
The third approach criticizes Ann for something that is most likely out of her control. She would most likely fix the problem if she could. You're only adding more stress, which is counterproductive.
The Bottom Line
These examples and word tracks are only samples. The way feedback is delivered and how issues are discussed will certainly depend on the context and the level of trust between the manager and employee. However, these slightly exaggerated examples will hopefully offer effective models to prepare for and open your feedback discussions.