Here’s how every manager can offer personalized positive feedback more often outside of formal settings.
By Judith Humphrey
If you’re a manager, you already know it’s your job to offer encouragement as well as constructive criticism. But a lot of that still typically takes place in formal settings like annual or quarterly performance reviews. The challenge is figuring out how to share small doses of encouragement on a regular–even daily–basis, without that reinforcement ringing hollow after a while.
Nailing this formula takes at least two things: finding opportunities to slide in a positive word during impromptu interactions, like corridor conversations, and a dose of emotional intelligence. Here are a few ways to put that into practice.
- SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION FOR AN IDEA
This one’s easy. Praise and reinforce the best ideas you hear being put forth in meetings. But it goes beyond just noting those contributions with, “Great idea.” Do that, but then the next time you pass that person in the hall say, “Hey, I thought the point you made in the meeting was right on!” You might add, “We need to talk about your suggestion, because I think it has potential for one client in particular.”
This feedback adds depth and continuity to your acknowledgements, encouraging your team members to do more creative thinking, speak up, and share their ideas.
- NOTE SOMEONE’S PROGRESS
Compliment the progress people are making in particular areas. Let’s say one of your team members was noticeably more confident in her last presentation. Take her aside and say, “Wow, you crushed it! When I compare your performance today with the presentations you were doing a year ago, I see you’ve developed much greater confidence. Congratulations!”
These “before” and “after” comparisons let you emphasize what’s improved over time. People love not just to feel like they’re making headway, but that their improvements are being noticed. In fact, my personal trainer uses this technique really well. “Wow, your deadlifts today are so much better than the ones you did last month–and you’re lifting even more weight this time,” he recently told me. Feedback like this makes me feel on top of the world!
- HIGHLIGHT A WIN
Another way to praise employees day-to-day is to share someone’s recent accomplishment with the whole team. Don’t worry about some people feeling bad or left out; if you do this regularly, others will see there’s plenty of praise to go around. The wins you focus on can be small: landing a new customer, earning professional awards, hitting revenue and profit targets, or finding creative solutions to business problems. They all deserve recognition, which can inspire everyone on your team to reach higher.
Suppose someone in your group closes a big sale. Open your next team meeting by saying, “Before we get into the agenda, I’d like to share some good news with you. Alfredo has sold our executive education courses to one of the country’s largest banks. I’ll let him tell you about it in more detail, but I was delighted to see that he used his strong interpersonal skills and a long-standing connection with a college roommate to land this impressive deal.” Not only will Alfredo be glowing, but others in the room will get some good ideas about how they can replicate his success.
- RECOGNIZE DEDICATION
It’s important to commend those who’ve played crucial supporting roles. They may not have recorded that high-profile win themselves, but they’ve made those victories possible, and their dedication should be recognized. So the next time one of your teammates does a great job planning an event or supporting coworkers, acknowledge her commitment. You might do this privately, by saying, “This leadership meeting never could have happened without your hard work and coordination. You’ve made an amazing contribution.”
Or you might recognize her in front of the team in an impromptu moment of praise. I recently heard the head of a department thank everyone for a successful event, and only afterward did he realize he’d forgotten the administrative person who’d made it all happen. He returned to the stage and said, “And . . . oh . . . I meant to say that Belinda also played a big role!” You want to avoid these embarrassments, so be sure to write everyone into your notes.
- CHEER COLLABORATION
Finally, recognize collaboration whenever you see it. That’s a good way of reinforcing the ordinary, everyday teamwork your organization depends on. Just be specific when you call out two individuals: “I’m glad you two are working together as copywriter and art director. The concept you’ve come up with for the campaign is exciting!”
What makes all these techniques emotionally intelligent? A few things: For starters, they’re designed to build feedback into the informal social interactions you’re already having with your team members. They aren’t tied to formal benchmarks like performance assessments. Second, they’re focused primarily on the emotional and experiential side of work. You’re generating goodwill and positive feelings–and focusing somewhat more on soft skills than on hard ones: It’s less what Ximena knows that you’re recognizing, than what she did and how she did it.
When people start realizing that you care about them enough to stop them in the hall and offer a word of praise, they’ll be more empowered and engaged–and they’ll do better work, too.