Recognize your employees' achievements with positive feedback

Feedback shouldn’t be reserved for when you have a problem! It’s also important to let people when know they’re on the right track, and that they’re valued by the company. When managers and individuals take the time to recognize achievements, it signals that your company values the good work they do and the effort they put in.

It can also help to highlight the types of skills that are appreciated, and behaviour that should be replicated. If people in your company are still uncomfortable sharing feedback, following these few simple steps will help them deliver honest recognition that doesn’t feel forced or insincere.

Putting positive feedback to the test

In his insightful Ted Talk What makes us feel good about our work?, behavioral economist Dan Ariely describes an experiment he conducted on the correlation between recognition and motivation. In the experiment, people were offered declining amounts of money to circle pairs of identical letters on a sheet of paper. In the first scenario, people had to write their name on the paper. When they were finished, they handed it to an experimenter who quickly scanned the paper, said “aha” and placed it on a pile. In the second scenario, they did not write their name on the paper. When they were finished, the experimenter placed the paper on the pile without looking at it. In the final scenario, the experimenter put the sheets directly into a shredder.

The results showed that people in the first scenario ended up working for half as much money as the people in the third scenario. Watching their work being destroyed immediately was extremely demotivating, despite being offered money to do an easy task. Surprisingly, it turns out that the average stopping point for people in the second scenario was almost the same as those in the third. On the other hand, a simple acknowledgment from the experimenter had a marked impact on the subjects’ motivation.

Ignoring people’s performance was almost as bad as shredding it in front of their eyes.
Dan Ariely priofile image
Dan Ariely
Professor of Behavioural Economics

Why is positive feedback important?

A common misconception is that motivation in the workplace is primarily based on monetary rewards. It’s not always possible to give your employees a raise every time they do well, and surprisingly it might not be the strongest incentive either. A study by Make Their Day and Badgeville revealed that 83% of employees found recognition for contributions to be more fulfilling than rewards and gifts. Another 88% believed praise from managers was very - or even extremely motivating.

Positive feedback lets your employees know they’re valued by their team members, their managers and by the company, and contributes to building confidence in newer employees. You can also give positive feedback when an employee improves in an area they had previously had difficulty with, making it very useful as a follow up to constructive feedback.

And let’s not forget your top performers! While they may be doing really well and never skip a beat, their efforts should also be recognized. Many managers tend to neglect their top performers when it comes to feedback, because they see it more as a tool for helping improve performance and consider top performers don’t need any help. But they are working hard and their efforts shouldn’t be taken for granted! Recognizing them and showing appreciation are important steps to retaining your top talent.

While creating a positive feedback culture starts with managers, everyone at the company should be encouraged to share positive feedback with one another. The Make Their Day & Badgeville study reported that 76% of respondents saw praise from peers as very or extremely motivating. This will help strengthen your feedback culture.

How to give positive feedback:

1. Be specific

The key to good feedback - be it positive or negative - is to make it specific. Generic comments like “you’re doing great!” never helped anyone understand what about their work was most valued.

Describe what the person did and why you appreciated it, for example: “The extra coaching you gave to the new recruits on the last project helped them to learn the appropriate procedures, and helped our department to reach our deadline on time.”

This makes it tangible for the person receiving feedback, while it forces the feedback giver to give some thought to what they want to praise.

2. Timing

Timing is another important aspect of sharing feedback. If you wait too long, both you and the receiver might forgotten the event that sparked the desire to share feedback, or moved on to another time consuming project.

This makes the positive feedback less impactful, and when put off for too long it might even feel more like an afterthought. One of the main reasons to share positive feedback is to reinforce positive behavior so it can be encouraged and replicated. If you don’t have time to speak with a colleague straight away, send them praise through an email or your preferred internal communications tool.

3. Get into the habit of giving feedback more frequently

Failing to recognize when people have done a good job or gone above and beyond, can be incredibly demotivating. Working for long periods of time without receiving any form of thanks or recognition can end up making people feel as if they haven’t met expectations. That’s why it’s not only important to share positive feedback, but also to get into the habit of doing so on a regular basis.

You don’t have to base your positive feedback exclusively on results. You can share feedback after someone gives a presentation, or when they offer to help you on a project… Or if you notice them working on an important project and find the work remarkable… This will help people know that they don’t have to wait until they’ve met a goal or achieved a certain result before the receive positive feedback.

Set yourself a reminder to share feedback, it could be as simple as putting an invitation in your calendar, or if you already have a platform to support feedback sharing - setting up a reminder within the tool.

4. Encourage a culture of feedback

A survey by McKinsey found that respondents saw praise from their managers, leadership attention and a chance to lead projects as no less - or even more effective motivators - than cash based incentives. Aside from managers and leadership giving praise, strengthen your culture of feedback by developing and encouraging peer to peer feedback. This will benefit all employees and help them develop leadership skills.

Summary and take-aways

An effective manager is able to consistently recognize their employees’ strengths and achievements with positive feedback, while knowing when to coach them with constructive feedback too. When people feel that their work is appreciated by their manager and peers, they will be more motivated and more likely to see a future for themselves at your company. Sharing positive feedback is also a great way to encourage team spirit and a positive work culture.

Become a more effective giving as a manager by downloading our Managers Guide to Effective Feedback, using the link below.

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