Why praise can raise work performance
14 Mar 2018
There are many factors involved in creating a positive workplace culture and a high performing organisation. Ensuring workers know where they stand is crucial. One way good leaders do that is by providing effective feedback.
But what makes feedback effective, and how much is necessary?
Greg O’Meara of Ascend, a Melbourne-based consulting group, works with leaders to improve the quality of their communication. He believes it comes down to delivering two types of feedback: positive and constructive. And, importantly, getting the ratio right.
“In it’s simplest form, positive feedback is communicating what you want people to keep doing. Constructive feedback is when you’re saying, I need something different or have you thought about doing it like this.”
Greg prefers the term constructive feedback to constructive criticism.
“Constructive criticism is a bit of an oxymoron. I’m not pumped up when I hear someone say, can I give you some constructive criticism. But if someone says, constructive feedback... All you’re doing is helping this person be more effective.”
The key to delivering performance and enhancing feedback, both positive and constructive, is to frame it in terms of a worker’s behaviour or action.
“I let you know what behaviour produced a positive result and say, I think you should keep doing that. And with constructive feedback I say, here’s what I saw you do, here’s what I think you need to do differently.”
Research has shown most organisations dish out a certain amount of constructive feedback but they’re not so good at letting workers know what they’re doing right.
“I like the notion of catching people out doing the right thing. That’s where good leaders will text someone if they didn’t catch them after a meeting and say, great job, I really liked the way you handled that in the meeting. The moment there’s an opening for feedback, they seize it.”
The field of positive psychology has much to say about optimum ratios of positive and constructive feedback. In Greg’s experience, organisations begin to see tangible benefits when feedback is given regularly, over time, at a ratio of 3:1. That’s three positive for every one constructive. Peak benefits, he says, kick in at a ratio of around 5:1.
“If feedback is all too negative people lose their confidence. If it’s too positive, they get self-inflated and they forget to find their edge and the need to get better.”
“Over time, if an employee is getting a 3:1 ratio they can take the hard stuff. They go home thinking I know I’m doing a good job and my boss values me. When they get more constructive feedback than positive, they go home thinking the boss has it in for me, or I’m just no good at my job.”
Greg coaches many leaders who shy away from delivering feedback. “Sometimes workers say, I only get feedback in my annual performance review, and I think, gee, if it’s once every 12 months…”
Leaders must become adept at delivering positive and constructive feedback regularly. If they do that, they’ll be developing a positive culture and a high performance organisation.
Greg O’Meara is a consultant, facilitator and executive coach working with organisations and industries in Australia and internationally. Specialising in culture transformation, change management, leadership and team development, he helps people achieve their personal and professional goals.
His clients include ANZ, Telstra, Coles, Australia Post, Elders, Transfield Services, Heinz, Austin Health, ME Bank, NSW Transport, Allianz, BHP Billiton, Yahoo!7, Wesfarmers, Victorian Government, Simplot, and CSIRO.