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How to Deliver Positive Employee Feedback

One way organizations can improve employee performance is by implementing a pay-for-performance model. With this practice, employees’ merit increases and bonuses are based on their ability to deliver certain goals. During the webinar Performance Talks: How to Motivate Your Workforce With a Pay-for-Performance Model, we talked about the importance of communication when using pay for performance.

Regular conversations about performance are essential. An employee should never be surprised during their performance review. But those conversations can be challenging.

In this two-part series, we will dive deep into the two types of performance-related feedback employees need to be successful: positive and not-so-positive.

Why positive employee feedback is important

First, we’ll start with positive feedback. Why? Well, because positive feedback can be more difficult to deliver than negative. Often, managers know they must address negative feedback. In fact, many organizations have training programs in place for managers to learn how to deliver negative or constructive feedback.

On the other hand, positive feedback can sometimes be dismissed under the heading “No news is good news.” In other words, if an employee isn’t getting negative feedback, then everything must be good. Sadly, this can become a pitfall for misunderstandings.

An employee could think everything is fine and then be unpleasantly surprised during their annual performance review conversation. Employees should understand what is expected of them and receive regular, honest feedback about their performance.

When is the best time to start giving employee feedback?

One of the first places organizations start discussing and monitoring performance is during onboarding. Check-in surveys can help ensure that new hires are starting on the right path. During onboarding, organizations use check-ins to ask employees about their candidate experience, their new job and first impressions of the company. These check-in surveys are also a time to ask employees about training and job performance.

Examples of training and performance check-in questions include:

  • Do you have the tools to do your job?
  • Is there something you don’t understand about your work?
  • Are you finding it easy to communicate with your manager?

The answers to these questions can help a new hire be successful. Ideally, organizations should have provided employees with initial training that includes communicating the company’s expectations. But sometimes, reality sets in and training might be postponed or cancelled. Check-in surveys can get training (and performance) back on track.

In addition to compliance and job-specific training, part of a new hire’s initial learning should include guidance on how to deliver and respond to feedback. Let employees know at the start of their careers that communication is important to the organization. Employees should expect to receive and be prepared to offer performance feedback.

The 3 components of employee feedback

Feedback training programs should be made available for both managers and employees. If your organization doesn’t currently have one, it’s important for the content to reinforce that all feedback contains three key components:

1. Behavior-based input (versus attitudes)

Behaviors can be easier to define than attitudes because they are an outward expression. Because attitudes are a way of thinking, it’s best to give feedback that’s reflected in a person’s behavior. For example, instead of telling an employee that they have a “good attitude,” share the behaviors that they exhibit — like the willingness to work with others.

2. Specific examples

Simply saying, “Good job,” isn’t enough. Feedback must tell the person receiving it what they specifically did that was awesome. For example:
“Thank you for turning in the TPS reports a day early. I was able to finalize these before I left for vacation.”

The employee knows exactly what they did and why it was special. Because they know it was helpful, it’s possible they will try to do it again.

3. Timely observations

Telling someone they did something good six months after the fact doesn’t resonate. Employees will think that if it wasn’t important enough to say soon after it happened, then it must not have been special. Find time to express gratitude and appreciation in the moment. It doesn’t have to be flashy and long. But it does need to be sincere.

Delivering positive employee feedback

Once a person understands the three key components of feedback, they can then look for opportunities to deliver it positively. When it comes to sharing praise, there’s a fine line we must remember: Be authentic without seeming fake and phony.

Here are five things to keep in mind when getting ready to share positive feedback:

1. Schedule the conversation

Like timeliness, when positive feedback is delivered in the hallway, it doesn’t have the feeling of being important or intentional. It loses its meaning. An ideal time to deliver feedback could be during regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings or similarly structured conversations.

2. Describe the positive behavior and why it’s important

To raise engagement, employees need to understand how their behaviors align with the goals of the organization and, ultimately, the bottom line. In addition to describing the behavior, explain why it brings value.

3. Ask the person to share their reason for success

If the behavior is a quality that the employee does well, such as their accuracy on a report or the way they serve customers, it makes sense to ask them how they do it. This provides the company with a strategy that could help someone else.

4. Listen!

This applies to everyone involved in the conversation. We might think because it’s positive feedback, we can quickly say something and move on. Or reply with, “Thank you,” and that’s it. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from each other.

5. Give thanks

In steps three and four, we talked about learning from the conversation. Whether you’re giving or receiving the feedback, take a moment to appreciate the other person for their time and honesty. This is how positive working relationships and psychological safety are built.

Plan the conversation. Be specific and timely. Focus on behaviors and their connection with the goals of the organization. It’s worth the time investment for employees and businesses.

High-performing work cultures are built on positive feedback

Organizations want great talent, and regular feedback goes a long way in fostering high performance. Frankly, employees want high performance, too. Because in a pay-for performance model, it means better pay and, possibly, better career opportunities.

The way to build a high-performance environment is by training and encouraging feedback among managers, peers and employees when good things happen. People like to hear feedback so they can continue to perform at a high level. It’s a win for everyone.

Read this blog post for five tips to deliver negative employee feedback. And explore this white paper to learn more about fair and equitable pay-for-performance models.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.

About the author
Author picture, Sharlyn Lauby
Sharlyn Lauby
Sharlyn Lauby, SHRM-SCP, is the president of ITM Group Inc., a Florida-based training and human resources consulting firm focused on helping companies retain and engage talent. Prior to starting ITM Group, Lauby was vice president of human resources for Right Management Consultants, one of the world's largest organizational consulting firms. She has designed and implemented highly successful programs for employee retention, internal and external customer satisfaction, and leadership development. She is also well-known for being the author of the HR Bartender blog, which has been recognized as one of the top five blogs read by HR professionals. She is the author of Manager Onboarding: 5 Steps for Setting New Leaders Up for Success, and her latest book is The Recruiter's Handbook: A Complete Guide for Sourcing, Selecting and Engaging the Best Talent.