There is some debate in the research about the required ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback before the receiver will perceive them to be in balance.
At a minimum, it is 3:1. Three times as much positive feedback as negative feedback before the receiver will perceive the feedback to be evenly balanced between positive and negative.
What appears not to be debated, is that we need both positive and negative feedback.
When a staff member says “I want more feedback on my performance,” this usually means, “I’d like you to tell me more often that I’m doing a good job,” that is “I want more positive feedback.”
It would be rare for someone to say “I’d like more negative feedback,” yet if performance shortcomings are to be addressed, then conversations to correct behaviour are just as essential.
Over the years, many approaches have been recommended to help managers deliver both the good news and the bad news.
One such approach that gained traction was the sandwich technique - a piece of positive feedback, followed by some negative feedback and rounded off with some more positive feedback. This technique works really well as long as you are delivering feedback to someone who is really dumb.
Everyone else sees through the ploy, ignores the positive feedback and braces themselves for the negative comments. They see their manager as insincere, as someone who is playing games and who lacks the courage or skill to deliver a piece of negative feedback on its own.
There are three prerequisites for any feedback – authenticity, specifics and proximity to the event.
The authenticity arises from your motives for giving the feedback.
If the motive is genuinely and consistently to help the individual and the organisation achieve their combined objectives, then it will be received openly by the employee. If at any point they see the motive as self-serving, punitive or manipulative, then suspicions will arise.
The need to be specific comes from the experience that vague generalisations about performance are not terribly helpful.
Telling someone they did a good job on the report they submitted to the board is nice, but useless.
Telling them that the addition of an executive summary and a brief overview of the recommendations made the document easier to read and more impactful tells them very clearly what you liked and what they should do again next time.
Finally, it is important that the feedback is given as close as possible to the actual event.
We all know what it feels like at the annual performance review when our manager raises an issue that occurred ten months ago. On the off chance we do remember it, it is a distant experience with little relevance today.
In contrast, if you receive feedback within an hour of a formal presentation, the energy and interest is high, as is the receptivity to the feedback.
One small step in the next 24 hours
Many years ago Dr Ken Blanchard coined the phrase 'catch people doing something right', which is a sensible first step in addressing feedback.
Be on the lookout for three examples of staff who are doing the right thing, achieving results and modelling the values or behaviours you want. Although a target of three people feels a bit artificial, it will raise your consciousness of your need to look for rich sources of material with which you can deliver some positive feedback.
Take opportunities to deliver this feedback in formal and informal ways as you move around the hallways, workshop or plant.
Similarly, if you encounter someone not delivering to their potential or not meeting your expectations, find a private place to deliver this feedback as well.
Don’t sandwich it with good comments - just deliver specifics with authenticity and encourage them to deliver on their ability.