Facing the Fear of Feedback

Posted February 2, 2009 in Latest News & Insights

Ken Blanchard, leadership thought-leader, is a great person to see live.  He’s fun to listen to and always reminds me of a mischevious little elf, stiring up corporate trouble with a big smile on his face.

Blanchard is known for a number of things, but the one quote that I find gets managers quaking in their boots is “catch people doing something right.”  For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he is a massive proponent of positive feedback to drive performance.  I once heard him recount a story from his university teaching days when he started the semester by handing out the final exam and teaching the students the answers for the remainder of the semester.  Apparently it didn’t go over to well with the people responsible for maintaining the bell curve.

From time to time, I step into the classroom and deliver a variety of management 101 programs. In one on motivation, I put Blanchard’s philosophy to the test and ask participants to agree with one of two statements:

1) You can never praise enough (Blanchard’s theory)

2) If you praise too much your staff with take advantage of you

Invariably, the second statement gets the most votes with a number of people staying firmly on the fence with the comment “well, it’s a bit of both”.

I agree with statement one myself.  I think positive feedback is one of the most UNDERUTILIZED tools in any manager/leaders toolkit.  The issue is, most of us do a lousy job at giving it.  We spend more time sweating over how to give constructive feedback but will toss off a “great job” comment without batting an eye.

It’s this weak positive feedback that’s bad.  All those “great jobs” and “super work” throw-offs create a culture of mediocrity where nobody knows what they’re actually doing well.

Positive feedback, when used to help employees understand what specific acts and behaviours they’re doing that are helping move the team forward… how can that be anything but good?

And, when you really think about it, how can continually finding opportunities to share this type of feedback with your teams lead to anything but a more motivated group who know exactly what they’re doing and why what they’re doing is important?  But be warned… positive feedback used appropriately could lead to – *gasp* – improved performance, higher engagement and a group of people who actually enjoy working with you.

But then again… isn’t that what you’re hoping to achieve anyway?  Give it a try.  Go forth this week and set a goal to say a meaningful (read specific and clear) piece of feedback to each member of your team everyday this week.  Let me know what happens.

Happy leading!

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  1. Gary says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Great post.