Positive Feedback Matters

Mike spent three days agonizing over the critical feedback. When I caught up with him for coffee, he told me that "giving folks difficult news is awful" and that he often loses sleep over these kinds of feedback sessions during his company's yearly review. To take his mind off of the negative feedback, I asked about Sarah, one of the engineers on his team who performed well above the expectations for her level. "What are you going to tell Sarah?" I asked.

He hadn't thought about what to tell the folks he valued most.

The Absence of Positive Feedback

Positive feedback is missing in the workplace. In an HBR self-assessment survey, the researchers discovered that one in three managers don't give positive feedback at all. In that same report, researchers demonstrated that managers who felt they gave "honest" feedback strongly correlated with managers who gave any negative feedback. A reasonable conclusion is that, like Mike, most leaders believe that their job is to be critical.

Believing that as leaders our job is to be the voice of criticism is a mistake. Not only does a lack of positive feedback result in less engaged employees, but it also affects employee's relationships amongst one another. High performing teams share six times more positive feedback, while low performing teams share twice as much negative feedback as their peers.

Thankfully we already possess all the tools necessary to deliver effective positive feedback. They're the same tools we leverage when we need to have our more difficult conversations.


Make The Time: The most critical thing you can do is allocate the same amount of time for positive feedback as you do for negative feedback. Scheduling time on your calendar is consistently the most efficient way to ensure uninterrupted time to focus on feedback, both positive and negative.

Involve Others: While most companies have formal peer reviews as part of their performance cycles, there is no reason to limit feedback to only those channels. Seeking out folks impacted by the team's work will help you share praise through the eyes and words of their peers. Direct quotes are even better. 76 percent of people surveyed in a study by Make Their Day/Badgeville found that peer recognition was extremely motivating. Anecdotally, just need to reflect on the last time a peer told you how much value you were adding and how that made you feel.


Be Precise: Be as specific as possible when you are identifying positive feedback. A generic "good job" doesn't explain to an employee why their work mattered, the importance it had, or the impact it created. Just as negative feedback explores consequences, so too should the positive things that folks do. When involving others in collecting feedback, ask them first for specific details and second why it mattered.

Be Sincere: Just as when you deliver critical feedback, you must be genuine. Being insincere about positive feedback can be worse than no feedback at all. In the study conducted by Dasborough, she observed that when an individual delivered positive feedback with a critical tone, individuals felt worse about their performance compared to individuals given straight critical feedback. In short, the delivery matters as much as the message itself.

Positive feedback isn't optional. Similar to how we recognize and reward employees, it's a valuable action that we can use as leaders to help reinforce the culture and behaviors we want to see in our organization. Spending as much time on positive feedback as critical feedback not only helps motivate the team but keeps them engaged and aware of the value they're providing every day.