Feedback & Recognition: understand the nuances to harness the power

Two foundational pillars of high-performance culture and effective leadership are providing feedback and offering recognition. Despite this being a generally accepted leadership concept, perhaps even common sense, it is certainly not common practice. Our research indicates that 86% of leaders do not provide enough feedback and recognition. One of the biggest reasons for this is likely that, per HBR, 44% of leaders find giving feedback stressful. This same article reports that leaders believe that critical feedback is more effective than praise, with 37% of leaders indicating that they provide zero recognition. This data is alarming. 

Feedback and recognition are both incredibly important to creating a high-performance culture. The key to maximizing your impact as a leader is understanding the nuances of what makes each important in different contexts. While feedback and recognition go hand in hand, there are some critical distinctions. Feedback plays a bigger role in creating a culture of growth,  development and performance. Recognition plays a more prominent role in deepening the level of connection and mutual respect between leaders and team members. There are also subtle nuances required to achieve mastery in providing feedback and recognition.

Providing effective feedback

Let’s start with what makes feedback ineffective. People commonly report that they do not receive feedback that is specific in nature. Others complain about feedback not being frequent enough or timely relative to events that led to the perceived need for feedback. It is also critical that people perceive the feedback to be fair, given the scope of somebody’s role and their current set of goals. Since leaders tend to think critical feedback is more important than praise, we shouldn’t be surprised that many people experience their manager as overly critical.

The good news is that providing effective feedback is easy, especially if we have first set clear expectations. While feedback conversations themselves can be uncomfortable, there is a way to provide constructive, supportive feedback in a way that deepens the manager / employee relationship. In our framework, we offer leaders a method called 3 Story Feedback.

Nuances of your story. Like any other meeting, we will have a greater chance of success if we prepare for the conversation beforehand, exploring all facets of Your Story. There are three key nuances here in terms of how we deliver feedback: 

  • Fact vs perception. It’s important to separate observable facts that anybody could have witnessed, from your thoughts and perceptions. This is an important nuance and increases the likelihood that your feedback is perceived as fair. 
  • Organizational values. In preparing your feedback, it’s helpful to reference organizational values. In most cases the behaviour that you are giving feedback on is not aligned with the organization’s values. Since living values is a term of employment, this is an objective external reference point as opposed to our own perception of what good behaviour looks like.
  • Share your feelings. Emotional granularity is a core trait of exceptional leaders. Parents tell frustrated children to ‘use their words’ though many leaders struggle to articulate how they feel. There is a powerful nuance to sharing emotion. It requires vulnerability, cultivates empathy and adds gravity to your message.

The other person’s story. We next use powerful, open-ended questions to explore the Other Person’s Story. This is perhaps the most important nuance in our feedback method. By creating space for the other person to share their experience and perhaps offer you feedback, you are exhibiting the single-most important trait in fostering psychological safety. Ironically, the second most important aspect of psychological safety in our research is showing a genuine interest in somebody’s development – the purpose of providing constructive feedback in the first place! Asking ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions will help you understand other nuances to the story.

Better future story. Rather than pointlessly, endlessly debating whose perspective is correct, we then shift to a Better Future Story. How can we move forward in a way that both people have a positive experience and have the conditions they need to be successful. This is another subtle but powerful nuance in our feedback method.

The nuances of recognition

Recognition is simply positive feedback. It’s when we catch somebody doing something right. Recognition feels good to give, is energizing to receive and often costs nothing. Though it might be common sense that recognizing the efforts of employees is powerful, it’s definitely not common practice. In fact, 80% of leaders are not providing frequent, effective recognition. 

Sharing your appreciation conveys genuine care and commitment. It also fosters open communication, where managers are approachable and receptive to feedback and suggestions from the team. Recognition helps create a supportive, safe environment where thoughts can be shared freely and there is appreciation for the ability of all team members to contribute. Recognition shines a spotlight on individual strengths and wins, encouraging people and supporting their success.

Unlike feedback, which can be uncomfortable, recognition is not stressful to provide. That said there are critical nuances that help recognition land effectively.

  • Be specific. If we just say ‘nice job’ or ‘good work’ we have not provided effective recognition. What exactly did you observe? What was the positive behaviour that you experienced? What was the impact? By being really specific, the person will be really clear about what they did and what made it exceptional. 
  • Organization values. Just like feedback, it is really helpful to reinforce organizational values by highlighting examples of how somebody lived them. 
  • Consider the forum. A critical nuance is to think about the right forum to provide this. This requires balancing the most appropriate forums based on the magnitude of the recognition, with the personal preference of the person being recognized. Some people are fine with a private thank you, while others really appreciate public recognition. 

It really makes a difference when leaders are effective at providing feedback and recognition. It cultivates a high-performance culture, deepens the relationship with team members and creates an environment of growth and development. Feedback and recognition are foundational to individual performance. The nuances discussed above will help you be immediately more effective.

Put this into practice

To help leaders rapidly become more effective, we have created The Playbook, our free guide to the foundations of high-performance leadership. If you would like to pinpoint your personal development priorities, take our free High-Performance Leader Self-Assessment or we can help you get a 360° review. 

We empower leaders to make common sense, common practice. How can we help you?