Focus on Coaching: Overcoming Positive Feedback Obstacles

By Matt Zobrist

The first and most powerful type of coaching is positive feedback. Positive feedback consists of praise, appreciation, and acknowledgment given when performance or behaviors meet or exceed standard. When done correctly, positive feedback will easily get team members to replicate good performance, unlock their discretionary effort and routinely exceed standards. Some leaders struggle to provide a sufficient quantity and quality of positive feedback. Here are six ways to overcome the most common obstacles (rationalizations) the keep us from providing positive feedback.

  1. Idea that pay for work is sufficient —this is an outdated mind-set. Further, it is an excuse used by a leader who does not want (or is afraid) to praise and appreciate. Pay is the compensation an organization provides for the lowest level of acceptable performance. We need to realize the most people want more from a job than simply a paycheck. A paycheck does not buy a team member’s engagement or motivation to provide effort beyond the minimum. Today’s workforce is going to be more productive when they feel appreciated, are recognized for their work, and are engaged. More importantly, we need to stop rationalizing our failure to praise because they are getting paid.
  1. Just doing their job doesn’t deserve praise – Some bosses say that no one deserves to be praised for just doing his or her job. This is false, and just like the first obstacle, without praise and appreciation, team members rarely do more than required. Additionally, team members who are performing to standard are just as deserving of praise as those who excel. Praise and appreciation are the fundamental steps to getting them to move their needle towards (eventually) performing above standard. If you don’t praise for standard performance, you will not be able to praise for higher performance because your team won’t ever get there. They will be very unlikely to even try to do anything but the minimum. You will never be able to unlock their discretionary effort.
  1. I do not hear it from my leader – First, you should never rationalize your own behavior on account of others. Second, your responsibility is to your team. One of my favorite quotes by Simon Sinek is “Be the leaders you wish you had.” It is true that it is hard to provide positive feedback when you are not getting any. However, the reality is that your team deserves to be recognized and appreciated by you (their leader), regardless if you are receiving it from yours. Don’t deprive them of the positive feedback they so desperately deserve, simply because you are not getting it. PRO TIP: If you consistently and sincerely provide positive feedback to your team, eventually, they will provide it back to you.
  1. They don’t want to hear it – Human beings all have ego needs (see Maslow) and everyone likes to be told when they have done something good. Additionally, when that praise comes from someone in authority (and hopefully respected) it has more meaning. Even those who say they are “just doing their job” or there is “no need” for compliments, are just raising false flags. This is often a result of the cultural stigma of not “tooting one’s own horn.” Every they do something worthy of praise, something you (your organization) wants replicated – Tell them! If they object, tell them again. PRO TIP: Overcome the “I don’t need recognition” objection by shifting the burden of feigned embarrassment to yourself, by saying, “I need you to know, that I appreciate/recognize/praise that.”
  1. They know, I don’t have to tell them – This excuse assumes (wrongly) two things: First, that a team member knows when their performance is appreciated and praiseworthy; and second, that a team member’s internal self-talk is sufficient that when they do something well, they automatically know and will continue the behavior. In reality, team members are starving to know where they stand with their boss and if they are doing things right. None of your team members has the ability to read your mind, so the only way they can know is by you telling them. PRO TIP: It is not just about them knowing, but the fact that their leader knows and recognizes it!
  1. I’m too busy – This is probably the lamest, yet most frequently cited excuse for failing to provide positive (or any) feedback. The reason I say that is two-fold: First, if it was important to you, you would make time for it. If we genuinely want our team members’ performance to be excellent then we must make providing positive feedback a priority! When it is important, you will make the time for it. Second, it is usually applied retroactively. That is, we tend to only recognize the lack of it AFTER we failed to provide it. We rationalize this failure by noting we just did not have time. Because the benefits of positive feedback are so valuable, we must make it a priority. It must be important do us, great leaders do this as a matter of habit. PRO TIP: If it is difficult to carve time out of your busy schedule to provide positive feedback then put sometime on your daily agenda (say 15-20 minutes at the end of the day) to just recall and write down things you team members did that were noteworthy. Also put 15-20 minutes on your morning schedule to follow up on that list the next day. Carry it around with you and mark off the tasks as you provide the feedback. Soon you will find that you won’t be waiting until the end of the day and you will be providing positive feedback in a timely manner every day.

Positive Feedback is the bread and butter of a good leader. It is the linchpin to unlocking an individual’s discretionary effort and getting high level performance from your team. Consistently providing positive feedback will also build the loyalty and trust, which high-functioning teams require to succeed.

Matt Zobrist is an energetic and dynamic facilitator, coach, presenter and speaker with Aegis Learning, LLC.

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