Appreciative Feedback - It's an Edge, Not a Fluffy Nice-to-Have
Updated: Jan 20
Appreciative feedback is one of the most untapped free resources for any organization and has unbeatable ROI. I'm defining appreciative feedback here as skillful, timely work compliments that reflect the value and/or impact that an employee contributes. Although it sounds fluffy, its delectable ripple effects make it one of the most impactful elements for an organization to increase engagement, retention, motivation, and competitive edge. If it's not already embedded in your organization's culture, I recommend skilling up and infusing it, now.
A mind-blowing ratio: it can take high-performers six pieces of appreciative feedback to neutralize the self-esteem impact of a single negative piece of feedback. This is bolstered by ample research about the mind's propensity to focus on negativity more than positivity. As Rick Hanson has observed, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. While there's a large body of research about this, it's not rocket science. Appreciative feedback is effective because it feels great to receive it, and signals belonging, safety, success. Added bonus: it's free! So it's official: it's not just kids who need affirmation, but adults who need to feel seen, felt, heard and appreciated as well. No matter how mature, enlightened, or self-reliant we become—most of us do not shed the need and desire for appreciative feedback.
The 6:1 ratio makes the difference between an employee having an experience of "My [boss/colleague] has my back and sees my strengths and accomplishments” vs “I never hear anything from them but negative feedback.” So within an organizational culture that understands, prioritizes, and practices appreciative feedback, there's more likelihood of having loyal, engaged, happy employees. This leads to trust, engagement, retention, speed, and business health.
A few more statistics that demonstrate the value of appreciative feedback:
• ENGAGEMENT is 3x when employees receive recognition
• 67% of employee are engaged when managers focus on strengths vs 31% being engaged when managers focus on weaknesses
• High-performing teams share 6X MORE positive feedback than average teams.
• Low-performing teams share 2X MORE negative feedback than average teams.
To unpack the nuances and ripple effects a little further, when timely and well delivered, appreciative feedback:
• is synonymous with "I see/hear/feel your strengths", which leads to increased and accelerated intimacy--one of the four primary components of trust
• makes engagement, retention and discretionary effort more likely, which leads an organization to having speed and edge
• creates a foundation for exchanging difficult feedback when necessary—we are way more likely to be receptive to difficult feedback from someone who we know values us.
For some of us, giving appreciative feedback rolls easily off the tongue. It's easy to be a fountain of genuine compliments. On the opposite side of the spectrum, it may feel entirely unnatural, fake, or exhausting to provide so much appreciative feedback. Where we fall on this spectrum depends on how we grew up, and how frequently we were the recipients of appreciative feedback. Did it flow easily in your family and community, or was it as rare as gold? What was modeled for you as a child?
As with any other skill, you can practice and get better at it. If providing appreciative feedback is challenging for you, start intentionally scanning for what you can appreciate about your reports and colleagues, then practicing the courage to articulate the positive features you observe.
Luckily, there is no shortage of reasons to appreciate people. Below is a list of behaviors and reasons to provide appreciative feedback in work contexts--appreciate employees if they:
• Learned a skill
• Reached a goal
• Learned from a past mistake
• Came to you for help
• Autonomously solved a problem and didn't come to you for help
• Solved a crisis / problem
• Went above and beyond
• Modeled boundaries and gave a skillful "No" to a task outside their scope
• Helped / welcomed a teammate
• Practiced a new skill, amidst discomfort
• Demonstrated empathy and emotional intelligence
• Attended a development or networking event
• Did something for their community
• Feel burnt out and shared it
• Simplified a process
• Demonstrated focus
• Have a great attendance record
• Take real time off when sick
• Responded well to a change
• Contributed or changed company culture
• Proposed a brilliant idea
• Embodied your values
• Embodied their values
• Embodied the organization's values
• Led a new initiative
• Were praised by someone else (amplifier)
• Gave a teammate appreciative feedback (multiplier)
• Possess a desirable attribute / way of being
Let's talk timing: it's critical!
It's best if appreciative feedback is given soon after the observation--otherwise it feels stale. Don't save it for performance reviews or 1:1s when they are weeks away—make it a point to be quick, generous, and immediate about offering it.
Let's talk specificity: it's critical too!
Vague feedback, such as "Great job!" —is unsatisfying and a missed opportunity for creating more intimacy. Instead, make it an art to capture the nuance and specific skills you notice and admire. "I'm amazed by how you read the room, noticed that there was a need for breaking the tension, and admitted you had no idea what the numbers indicated. That humility and honesty made it safe for everyone else to admit it, too, and relax. We can do our best work that way."
Lastly, be explicit about impact, as in the example above, so there's a direct link made between the behavior / observation and the value for the organization / team. This encourages people to intentionally continue the excellence.
If it feels unusual to give it, some sentence stems and approaches are:
• "I just want to share that I noticed you make a really inspiring move today when you..."
• "When you X, I felt [appreciative, relieved, inspired, motivated, grateful]...The impact on [X/ our team / the company / morale] is [Y]."
• "I want to take some time out to appreciate what you accomplished during that [meeting/project/X] It took a tremendous amount of [X/patience/fortitude] to [Y] and the impact is [Z/our team will benefit]."
• "I appreciate you how you [pivoted] when [they shared their new vision]. Not everyone could have been that [flexible and adapt as quickly].
Interested in exploring feedback skills more, for you and/or your team? Reach out to see if we're a good match for coaching—or for information about my experiential workshops on how to give and receive both appreciative and challenging feedback.