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Most People Need More Than A “Pat-On-The-Back”

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The art of positive feedback is a critical management skill. It will make or break the motivation of an employee. Giving positive feedback reinforces behavior and performance that is desired.

Most managers think they are giving positive feedback all the time. In fact they will say, “I tell my staff they are doing a good job.” But it’s important to be very specific about the feedback and the positive impact of the employee’s behavior and performance. We need to describe the behavior very specifically so that the employee knows what behavior to repeat. For example, if a manager wants to give positive feedback to an employee about an interaction with a customer, he or she would say something like this: “Tom, your manner of dealing with customers is ideal – eye contact, smiling, using their names and showing respect. In fact, Mr. Allen commented to me about your wonderful customer service.” The specific behavior that we want reinforced is described and we have also commented on the impact of the behavior on the customers. This is more powerful than just saying, “Good job, Tom.” which can be received as backslapping and phony.

Beyond verbal positive feedback there are many ways to express gratitude for a job well done. Managers don’t have to bankrupt the company in order to show employee appreciation. Here are just a few:

Recognize with a Title: Employers have discovered that people do care about their job titles–sometimes they will even choose the better title over more pay.

Rewards: Set goals for the week with input from staff members. For example, on Fridays, employees receive a reward (dinner coupons, entertainment tickets, etc.) for each goal met.

Public recognition: Office wide e-mails, inner-office memos, post on bulletin boards or company intranet congratulating employees of all levels for major achievements.

Follow up the public announcement with a private, personalized note to reaffirm that the employee’s major accomplishments are not only noticed and appreciated, but that the organization also recognizes his or her day-to-day performance.

Lighten up the workplace with impromptu celebrations. Surprise employees with “spontaneous” social breaks away from the daily work routine.

The key to the art of positive feedback is to experiment and learn what type of reward motivates each employee.

Most People Need More Than a “Pat-On-The-Back”

•   Be specific when you praise.

•   Follow up public recognition with personalized recognition.

•   Experiment and try different types of incentives.


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