“Dogs like a pat on the back, and people do too.”
W. Edwards Deming
People want and need feedback on how they are performing. They want to learn. People have an inherent desire to perform well, improve, and excel. Long ago, Human Resource or Personnel department staff recognized that supervisors and managers did not provide sufficient feedback to workers so they devised performance appraisal systems to force feedback at least once a year. Think for a minute, do we wait for months to give feedback to our puppy for wetting on the floor or coming when we call? Yet we often treat people that way by waiting months to provide feedback. Obviously, we need to give feedback in real time as performance is noted. The more time that is expired between the event and the feedback, the more the effect is diminished.
Okay, so we need to give feedback promptly, but how? In order for people to learn and grow, they need guidance by both positive and negative feedback. A good rule of thumb is to give three “atta boys” to every “aw shucks”; three positives to every negative. Positive feedback can be given in front of others as long as it does not cause jealously. Negative feedback should always be given in private to prevent humiliation. Both types of feedback should be constructive, helping the employee increase performance and sense of worth.
Be thoughtful and considerate. It is best to deliver the feedback in person unless the individual, or group, is remote. In that case, a handwritten note is more effective than cold email or voice mail. You might be surprised to find how many people keep handwritten notes, as they are meaningful to them.
Be real; be genuine in your feedback. Think carefully about what you say or do as the impact can have a lot more impact than you think. People can tell the difference when you are going through the motions or are sincere. Insincere positive feedback can be more damaging than doing nothing.
Pay attention to the frequency of your feedback. Too much, or too often, feedback loses effect and you may not be taken seriously. Too little and you don’t help the employee learn and they may feel neglected. Employees who feel neglected often look for another job where they will be appreciated. Turnover in employees is expensive.
For those on the receiving end of feedback, learn how to take it. Many people feel uncomfortable receiving a compliment because they do not know how to act. They don’t want to be seen as an egotist and so tend to deflect the compliment. A good way is to stand erect, look the person straight in the eye, and let them know how much it means to you. Sincere recognition deserves sincere expression of gratitude.
Don’t forget that managers and leaders can also be the recipients of feedback. You too, can feel good with a pat on the back. Learn how to accept it as employees will observe your behavior and emulate it.