Reinforcing Feedback

Feedback is something we focus on when things go wrong. But how about then things go right? You need to reinforce value-adding behaviors just like you would change ineffective behavior. Otherwise, you are likely to maintain the status quo but not improve performance.

If an employee is working in a way that is really effective, we’d obviously like it if they keep doing that. We often assume that our employees know that if we don’t critique them, they must be doing the right things. That’s not necessarily true. The absence of corrections might mean they have not done anything wrong, but it does not tell them they are doing the most effective things. If they try something new that has a positive impact, and they don’t hear anything about it, then that might be the last time they try it because the result may not be obvious to them.

So if a client says something nice about one of your salespeople, or training participants appreciate a facilitator’s techniques, let them know. The only way people know to do something again is if they know it has worked. There is no point keeping a secret to yourself.

This is not about patting people on the head or showering them with compliments or making them feel good. Reinforcing feedback does not involve any bonuses or gifts or certificates of appreciation. This is not about motivation. It is simply a bit of performance feedback, perhaps with a more positive spin than we may be used to. But that matters. If feedback is always “constructive” (i.e., you did something wrong, let’s fix it) then we will correct mistakes, but never advance new ideas.

So look at the feedback you give your employees. Are you always correcting mistakes, or are you also helping people stay on the right path?