Many of the many articles and books on giving effective feedback focus on how to effectively give feedback in an attempt to address low or lower than desired performance. What we often forget is that positive feedback can be as powerful, if not more powerful in driving employee high performance. By giving employees feedback on the things they are doing well, we reinforce this "good" behavior and encourage more. We also help the employee feel valued and appreciated, which contributes to employee engagement and satisfaction—both of which are known to be contributors to high performance.
Accentuate the positive
It's easy to get caught up in identifying all the areas where your employee's performance lacked, and give them feedback solely on these areas. After all, if we want their performance to improve we need to address these skill gaps. But we should also identify areas of good or high performance and give our employees feedback on these. Doing this invites or even incites them to repeat those behaviors or actions. It makes them feel valued and appreciated. Just as you would with performance gaps, give them specific examples and tell them what they did well and how that impacted the team or the organization overall. A good tip for reminding you to give positive feedback and to set the right tone for any performance review sessions is to discipline yourself to always start by providing positive feedback on good performance before you tackle the performance gaps.
Make sure you use both formal and informal means for providing positive feedback. Simply telling a deserving employee "thank you" or "great job" on a regular basis can support continued high performance. But make sure you also tell them why and specifically what they did well. You should also meet with them more formally, on a regular basis, to discuss performance and give them positive feedback. Formal feedback sessions should not be limited to your annual performance appraisal meeting. Try scheduling quarterly, or even monthly "mini performance reviews" where you review progress on goals and development plans, and formally give your employees positive feedback on good performance as well as any needed negative feedback on performance gaps. But even when addressing performance gaps, you can be positive and more effective if you tell the employee what they could do or develop to improve their performance, rather than focusing the things you want them to stop doing.
You should also consider giving positive feedback publicly. Unlike negative feedback, which should always be given confidentially, positive feedback delivered in a public way can incent and inspire others to perform and make all employees feel valued and recognized.
Look at root causes of success and try to replicate them
Just as you try to discover the root causes of poor performance so you can address them, you should also identify the root causes of high performance. What kinds of projects or people bring out the best in your employee? What work are they most passionate about? What kinds of management or supervisory support help them excel? What are the "conditions" that support their success? Once you've identified these root causes of high performance, work with your employee to try to replicate them as much as possible. You might also consider assigning the employee a development plan to help them further develop a strong skill or gain more knowledge in an area of interest.
You may not always be able to setup optimum working conditions for your employees, or only give them interesting work assignments that they are passionate about, but if you do this whenever it's possible/practical/ feasible, you set your employee up for success and encourage their high performance.
By including positive feedback as part of our regular discussions on performance, we give our employees a more balanced perspective and encourage desired behaviors and actions. Positive feedback can be a powerful motivator, and also supports employee satisfaction and engagement, leading to better employee performance.
Read how others have increased the effectiveness of their employee development initiatives
At Peterson Sullivan, employees now get the ongoing feedback they crave and the organization can easily identify their high performers.