In my executive coaching practice I rarely find an executive who gets high marks from others in the area of giving feedback–whether it's positive or constructive feedback. In their self evaluations, they usually think they're doing well in the area of positive feedback but admit that they could do better on the constructive side. They tell me such things as, “Well, I always tell my team when they are doing a good job; I will recognize them in a variety of ways.”
Upon further probing, I learn that their comments are typically comprised of non-specific “attaboys,” and are usually not nearly as frequent as they believe. One way I test this is with the “penny exercise.” I ask them to fill a pocket with 5 pennies in a day. Every time they acknowledge someone for doing something well, they can shift the penny to the opposite pocket. Then they take inventory at the end of the day to see how many pennies were shifted. When only a few or sometimes none get shifted, it is a real wake-up call for them. They end up concluding that they “think it” more often than they “say it” or that they were too busy focusing on their tasks and failed to show appreciation because they were too self-oriented. They forget that part of their role as a leaders are to guide, mentor, and develop their teams.
After the leaders develop an awareness that becoming more other-focused is part of their responsibility, it’s important for them to learn how to more effectively provide specific positive feedback. Employees are not mind readers. They want to know not only that they are doing well, but also exactly what actions and behaviors earned them the recognition. Why? Once they know what’s working, they can do more of it! For example, saying, “Great job on the XYZ project,” is not enough. It is too general and not truly helpful to the employee. Alternatively, the executive might say, “I really appreciate your helping us win the XYZ project. Particularly, your presentation was clear and concise as well as consultative in nature. It was solution-focused as it hit all the client’s pain points without backing them in a corner. You addressed a variety of recommended alternatives, giving them flexibility and options. You were warm and open to their questions and responded confidently. It is clear you did your homework and gave lots of thought to this. Congratulations!”
When executives start implementing the process of giving specific positive feedback, they often tell me that the recipients’ faces light up and their grins beam from ear to ear. This, in turn, help the leaders realize how deeply felt their appreciation was received and reinforces the reason to continue this practice. On the other hand, providing constructive feedback for sub-optimal performance is perhaps one of the most dreaded discussions leaders face. Next week, you’ll learn how to courageously conduct this conversation so that it yields productive results for both you and the recipients.