Contrary to popular belief, giving positive feedback to your direct reports isn’t just about recognising them and making them feel good. While those are important factors, there’s a lot more to it.
Great managers get this. Instead of jumping in with a quick “nice job” or “thanks,” they take a few extra minutes to consider how to give praise in a way that will be truly useful. Maybe you highlight an element of someone’s work that veers away from a less productive habit, or help an insecure direct report see a strength he or she was unaware of, or inspire the whole team to match someone’s proactive approach to solving a problem.
The characteristics of powerful positive feedback
- Authentic. People can tell when you’re exaggerating or have some ulterior motive in mind. If you don’t genuinely believe someone’s behaviour deserves recognition and has the impact you claim, then don’t give the praise.
- Specific. Describe the precise behaviour you noticed so that recipients understand what they’ve done and that you noticed it. And describe the impact of that behaviour so that they’ll understand why they should continue doing it. As you’re preparing the feedback, think of the formula “I noticed X, and the impact is Y.”
- Individualised. A compliment that’s highly motivating to one person may fall flat with another. As you choose your approach and words, draw from how your direct report has reacted in the past. Also, make a point of asking about motivations and goals in one-on-ones, setting yourself up to link positive feedback to what drives the person. What if you don’t have enough of a foundation to customise your feedback when something praise-worthy happens? Try leading with a question before you give feedback (e.g., “What do you think went best in the meeting you just facilitated?”), then calibrating your praise based on the person’s answer (e.g., “I agree — I love how we all walked away with clear action items that will help move the project forward more quickly”).
Examples of good feedback
Below are just a few examples of how you could give effective reinforcing feedback to a direct report who has just delivered an excellent presentation to colleagues. You can modify these approaches to fit your direct report’s accomplishment.
If your direct report:
1. Overcomes a stumbling block, perhaps after receiving redirecting feedback or coaching from you.
“Great job today. I noticed how you’re applying the things we’ve been talking about in our one-on-ones: Your tone of voice was more authoritative, you used nontechnical language that the whole group could relate to and your message was much more clear and focused. When you compare your presentation today to the one you gave last quarter, you’ve come a long way.”
2. Pushes beyond his or her comfort zone and could use a confidence boost (e.g., if the person is shy about public speaking or new to it).
“Your presentation today was so engaging. I especially liked how you spoke up clearly and made a point of making eye contact with each person in the room. I know you’ve said in the past that talking in front of groups makes you nervous, but today you came across as in command. It was a great example of your persistence and strength.”
3. Proves him- or herself by putting in extra time and effort.
“I know you put a tremendous amount of work into today’s presentation — not only with all the data you gathered from other departments, but also the hours you put in over the weekend. I appreciate the extraordinary effort. It shows your commitment and will go a long way to helping the team feel prepared when they talk to clients. Next time, let’s figure out how we can save you some prep time.”
4. Helps colleagues or customers.
“Great job today. The clear way you presented the process is going to help the team get up to speed quickly. You’ve saved them probably a week’s worth of work, since now they don’t have to dig around for their own answers. They’ll have your handy slides to use as reference.”
5. Contributes to a big-picture team or company goal, and you want to be sure he or she sees the connection.
“Great job today. The way you outlined the competitive landscape gave everyone important context they’ll need to implement the new client strategy. It was a big contribution toward our department goal this quarter. Keep thinking along these lines.”
6. Gets closer to a career goal (e.g., a promotion).
“Your presentation today really showed off your communication skills, especially the way you connected Maura’s idea at the end to what Tobias had said earlier. I think pointing that out helped clarify next steps for everyone. Your ability to draw connections and package information like that is a real next-level leadership skill.”
7. Models a team value you want to encourage.
“You did an excellent job involving each member of the team in today’s presentation. And you managed to do it without putting anyone on the spot and making them feel uncomfortable. And your presenting next steps as questions really helped everyone feel like they were part of the process. That’s the kind of inclusion that’ll help us work better as a team.”
8. Does something minor but worth recognising (perhaps because you suspect the person is unaware that it matters to you).
Acknowledge the relative size of the accomplishment:
“You did a great job ending your presentation on time today. That may seem like a small thing, but I could tell the group appreciated having that time for Q&A.”
9. Makes things easier or better for you.
“Thank you for the amazing presentation today. When you take the initiative to gather and present all that market research, it saves me a ton of time and is a huge help. And the way you explained it made me see connections between our process and business results in ways I hadn’t before.”
10. Meets or exceeds your performance expectations.
“Nice work today — you nailed it. The way you presented the process step by step was exactly what I had in mind when we talked through it in our planning meeting last week. I also liked how you included the client impact with each step — that really went above and beyond.”
This article was originally published on Jhana.com. Reprinted with permission.