Success Feedback: The key to employee motivation


Courtesy of Behavioral Science Technology, Inc. (BST)

I recently had an interesting conversation about feedback with a supervisor and one of his direct reports. The supervisor believed providing success feedback would decrease his credibility as a leader. “Why would you say someone is doing a good job and provide him with feedback?” he asked. “Doing a good job is what is expected, right? Isn’t it part of your job description?”

The direct report had an entirely different outlook: “It is very nice to hear what I’m doing right. When they only tell me what I’m doing wrong—cycle time is too high, quality is below standard, using the wrong equipment to work at heights, and so on—I feel uninspired. What am I doing here if I can’t do anything right? That’s why I really value success feedback. It keeps me motivated and makes me feel appreciated; it makes this an even better company to work for.”

We probably all know that one of our basic human needs is to feel appreciated, to be valued. If this need isn’t fulfilled, we may look for it elsewhere. What would you do if you didn’t feel appreciated in a relationship? Sooner or later you’d seek a new relationship where you think you’d be more valued. Although we all see the significance of positive feedback in our personal lives, we often “forget” to use it in our working lives. For employees who don’t feel valued, the right motivation might be what’s needed to keep them from splitting with the company.

Success feedback is given to reinforce positive behaviour. It has been proven to engage employees, increase discretionary effort, and retain organisational talent. But what does success feedback actually look like? Here are some key principles that can help you give feedback that encourages success:

  • Make feedback specific and behavioural. It should contain specific performance information. General statements such as “well done” or “great job” decrease the impact and credibility of feedback. You cannot develop your performance unless you know what specific aspects of your behaviour should change or which you should maintain.
  • Make feedback timely. Feedback is most powerful when it is provided as soon after the behaviour has occurred. If I want to give you feedback about your current performance but I say it to you next week, do you still know what you did right?
  • Make feedback sincere. You have to mean what you say and you have to say it with care and respect. When feedback is viewed as insincere, it can decrease the credibility of the leader.

So what are you going to do when you see someone doing a good job? Are you going to give that person success feedback?

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