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4 STEP Process In Delivering Positive Feedback

I’ve read multiple articles on how coaches should deliver negative feedback. As part of a Fortune 50 company with a stellar training department, I sat through many sessions on the same topic. I even wrote a blog a few weeks ago addressing some of these coaching issues: Wanted Coaches: Wimps Need to Apply.

So much of our time as leaders and trainers is spent on becoming better at delivering bad news, we miss the importance of being good at delivering positive feedback. Through employee surveys, I was often reminded by those I led that I was not very good at the positive reinforcement.

Looking back, this is sad. Through 15 years in sales leadership, I had a tremendous array of people who deserved more praise than I gave them. Looking in the rearview mirror, what I present here is a process derived from things I did poorly at times and well at other times.

Positive Feedback: Specific, Timely, Enthusiastic, Public

1. Specific

“Good job”. That was my favorite praise. My second favorite was “Nice job”.

I realize now how often my exceptional people only heard those words. What this shows is a lack of effort on my part. When I did it well, I delivered a message that was specific and showed that I was paying attention.

“I really appreciated the way you jumped into handle Mr. Jones’ concerns. You listened, you empathized and then you found him a solution and didn’t pass him off to another department. That is a great example of how it should be done.”

Now that has more impact than “Nice job” doesn’t it? Sorry for not being specific Lori.

2. Timely

Too often I would see something good and consciously decide to wait until it was more convenient to recognize someone. Of course, what happened more often than not was that I never got around to it.

Every once in a while I would find a Post-It note reminding me of something Tim did 3 weeks earlier. I’d call then and thank him. But, the impact was lost.

A quick phone call or poking my head in someone’s office to thank them for their efforts always takes less time than I believe. An email is ok, but again a phone call or a quick visit shows more effort on my part.

I am sorry Tim that I did not do that more often with you.

3. Enthusiastic

Honestly, this is not an area I have trouble with. I can really get fired up when I see something good happen and give specific and timely feedback.

I loved to see Allison’s face light up when I gave her an enthusiastic verbal pat on the back.

It is not as big a high as seeing the pride in my children’s eyes when I praise them, but it is close.

I found that if I was having a bad day, I needed to plan my response more. Just because I didn’t feel enthusiastic at the time did not excuse me from praising my people with enthusiasm.

4. Public

“Praise in public, admonish in private.” Yes that was George S. Patton who coined that phrase. Nothing could be more impactful than to take the time to give praise to your people in front of their peers.

When I did praise people in front of their peers, I prepared. Prior to a meeting, I wrote down 2-3 specific things James accomplished since the last time we met.

At the meeting, I publicly pointed out these accomplishments to his peers and looked James in the eye and told him how much I appreciated his contributions.

But, perhaps the most impactful public recognition I ever did was at yearly Christmas parties when spouses were invited. I would stand up in front of the room and talk about each member of my team. I took the opportunity to tell Toby’s wife what he meant to the team and what type of man her husband was at work. When both spouses teared up, I knew I had impact.

The Bottom Line:

For years, I thought I was good at praising people because I was usually enthusiastic and I usually did it in public. But to be truly effective and impactful, I needed to be better at being specific and timely as well.

1. Specific

2. Timely

3. Enthusiastic

4. Public

Hopefully remembering the acronym STEP will help both you and I in the future when we see someone deserving our praise. Try it at work, but also try it at home with your spouse and your children. It will make a difference. I promise.


Which of the STEP’s above are hardest for you?

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