Recognise This! – Constructive criticism and praise for work well done should both be given quickly, specifically and compassionately.

Seth Godin is one of my favorite “short form” bloggers. Generally, his posts offer pithy insight and advice in short, easily digested posts. Here’s a nugget from a recent such post:

“The best way to change long-term behavior is with short-term feedback. The opposite is not true. We rarely change short-term behavior with long-term feedback… If you want to reward (or punish) short-term behavior, don’t do it down the road.”

Let’s look at two common scenarios and how this can play out.

Scenario 1: You watch a member of your team deliver a report presentation and notice an excessive amount of stumbling to deliver the main point or inability to handle ad-hoc questions well.

Do you wait until the annual performance to give the employee some valuable feedback and constructive criticism, or do you share the feedback one-on-one that same week?

Scenario 2: You watch a member of your team deliver a to-the-point, exciting report presentation that helped the team arrive at an immediate decision and advance the project more quickly than expected.

Do you wait until the annual performance to praise the employee for a job well done, or do you formally recognize their contribution immediately to reinforce work well done?

Objectively, we all know the latter option in both scenarios is ideal. But I think we can all agree the most common approach is to offer criticism immediately but offer praise very belated, if at all.

And yet, multiple research studies and employee surveys tell us praise, given soon after the event being recognised, is a far stronger method for reinforcing desired behaviours than criticism. Sure, constructive criticism is sometimes needed. But why do we manage to deliver that in a timely way, but fail to recognise and praise excellence similarly? It’s certainly not because we enjoy the difficult conversations more.

I think it’s because we’ve been trained to rely on the annual performance review as a crutch. We know time is scheduled to deliver the positive feedback and so we wait. That, and we think ignoring the positive will have no deleterious effect on the project, team or business, whereas if we were to ignore negative behaviour, we could be endangering success.

This assumption is indisputably incorrect. Indeed, when we recognise positive, desired behaviours, we quickly communicate what we want to see again and again. That is a positivity cycle that ensures you continue to see those desired behaviours in the short and long-term.

Think back over your own career. How were you given feedback? How do you give feedback yourself? Are you quick to criticise, but long to praise?

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