3 Reasons The Best Leaders Stop Giving Positive Feedback

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Why over-praising your employees could spell disaster for your company culture.

We’re all striving to find that perfect, idyllic workplace — you know, the one where all the employees are happy and satisfied, the leaders are down-to-earth and empathetic, and there are free snacks, dog-care and unlimited mental health days. Oh and napping pods, you can’t forget those.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but this work place doesn’t exist. Sure, a few companies on those Best Workplaces in America lists come close, but their enviable company culture has more to do with the mindset of their leaders than their Google-like employee perks. If we’re being honest, the perfect company culture is a fallacy; even worse, some of the practices leaders are doing to achieve this workplace promise land are actually doing more harm than good.

Let’s talk about positive feedback. While good in theory, I believe that the modern American workplace is headed towards an epidemic of niceties. We don’t want our employees to think we’re mean, so we overcompensate with praise and positive feedback when the reality is that it’s both unnecessary and harmful. Don’t believe me? Here are three concrete reasons why leaders need to quit overpraising their employees immediately.

1. Slaps on the back are a harmful rabbit hole.

There are a time and a place for positive feedback, but let’s make one thing clear — there is a big difference between offering your employees helpful positive feedback and creating a company culture where every mundane achievement receives a shiny gold star.

Many of today’s leaders are falling into the trap of needing all of their employees to like them, and thus they offer constant, meaningless praise in order to stay in their good graces. For instance, I once had a superior who would give me an enthusiastic “good job” three-plus times a day, whether I deserved it or not. Sure, it was great to hear the first few times, but after a while, the praise lost its meaning entirely.

The problem with these slaps on the back is that generic positive feedback isn’t actually helpful. Positive feedback is supposed to be hyper-specific so an employee can know what they are doing well and can continue. Meaningless everyday praises won’t stick in your employee’s mind and really don’t serve a purpose other than making you feel like a great leader. Buy yourself a World’s Best Boss mug, and skip the over-praising.

2. Shying away from negative feedback is a huge mistake.

Instead of praising your employees for everyday tasks, celebrate the big wins and utilize negative feedback as a motivational tool.

Take the elusive performance review. A performance review with entirely positive feedback is practically useless because it doesn’t help your employees in the slightest.

Most people, myself included, simply tune out the good stuff to zero in on what their supervisors feel they need to improve on. There’s a reason for this — people want to know where they can do better and many employees, especially the good eggs, find value in being challenged.

With so many benefits of receiving critical feedback for both employees and your overall company, learning how to deliver negative feedback effectively is one motivational tool to keep in your leadership arsenal.

3. Sugarcoating with praise doesn’t help anyone.

At the end of the day, positive and negative feedback serve distinct purposes, but neither is possible if you sugarcoat the truth.

I get it, most of us would much rather focus on the positive than have to tell our employees that they need to improve. One trick that really helped me kick my habit is to take a moment before I deliver feedback, positive or negative, to be intentional. Ask yourself, is this feedback really accurate, or am I just trying to be nice? Am I using praise as my default response, or do I actually believe that this positive feedback will be impactful for my employee?

If you’ve started to praise your employees when they are doing a sub-adequate job, you’re not really pulling your weight like a boss. Part of the gig is to challenge and motivate your employees, while also creating a safe work environment where they feel they can ask for help and improve. Sugarcoating their work is self-servant and doesn’t help your employees nor your company.

 

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