9 ways to make sure feedback motivates – Part 1

Research shows that motivated staff tend to be happier, off sick less often, more loyal and work with more enthusiasm.  When you’re on the outside of a motivated workforce looking in, it can feel a bit like watching a great magic show – a heartening and positive experience, but you just can’t help wondering how it’s done.  Well, there’s been extensive research around motivation in the workplace, and significant factors in secret of motivating are:

  • A sense of achievement
  • Being recognised for your accomplishments
  • Opportunities for personal growth

And the good news for leaders is that giving your colleagues effective feedback can contribute to all three of these.  The even better news is that it’s free to do!  So powerful a motivator is feedback that some experts go as far as to say that employee recognition leads directly to profit.  In 2010 a study published in the Harvard Business Review reported that a 0.1% increase in employee engagement (of which the most significant factor was increased feedback), lead to a $100,000 increase in income.  That’s not a bad return on investment!

On our leadership and management workshops we often find people find it hard to give effective feedback without feeling like they’re being insincere, or they’re giving feedback but it’s not having the desired impact. So, here’s our expert’s 9 rules for leaders and managers in giving productive feedback:

1. Do it now.  If you can generate that much increase in income, it’s clearly too important to let feedback be one of those things that just slips off our to do lists!  Feedback, both positive and negative, carries far more weight if it’s done in close proximity to the thing that you’re commenting on.  So don’t wait!

2. Be sincere. If you want to sound sincere go easy on the superlatives – “wow, you’re such an amazing star, I think you’re the best salesman we’ve ever had” – sounds more like a platitude, than sincere feedback.  If you want people to believe you, then mean it.  Remember we all communicate through three channels, our words, tone of voice and our body language.  If you say they’ve done a good job but you don’t really mean it, then it’s likely that one of those channels of communication will betray you and you won’t be taken as sincere.

3. Be specific.  On our management training courses we sometimes play pin-the-tail on the donkey.  With the first tail-pinner the audience are primed to say nothing.  With the second the audience are told to give very positive but generic feedback – ‘great job‘, ‘well done’.  With the final tail-pinner they are instructed to be very specific with their feedback – ‘well done, you’re very close, just a little left‘.  Would you like to guess which tail-pinner usually does best?  Generic praise might make people feel nice in the very short-term, but it’s unlikely to have any real impact on their performance.  Specific,unambiguous feedback that describes what they did well not only focuses their minds on behaviour you’d like them to repeat, but it signals that this feedback was important enough for you to give thought to how to praise them.

4. Mention the results or the impact.  Leading on from being specific, considering mentioning the results – it show’s you’ve paid attention to the outcome.  A word of warning here, sometimes the results might be out of the persons control, but it doesn’t take away from their hard work – for example, they may have worked long hours to complete a bid that you ultimately didn’t win, but their effort deserves recognition.  In this situation, consider commenting on the impact of their work – “your hard work on this bid, has meant that we now have a great resource to draw from next time, so you’ve saved us a lot of time in the future“.

Read Part 2 here.

To learn more about motivating people, join one of our leadership and management workshops.