The one mistake managers make that hurts team engagement and productivity

Many managers fail to deliver sufficient feedback, according to a study on managerial feedback by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, both leadership development authors and experts who recently wrote about their Harvard Business Review. 

To conduct their survey, Zenger and Folkman administered a self-assessment to more than 7,000 people.

What managers don't do—and why they don't

The results revealed that 37% of managers avoid giving positive feedback, according to the Harvard Business Review report. Zenger and Folkman found that while managers feel that it's imperative to provide their direct reports with negative feedback, positive feedback was viewed as optional. Managers tended to "vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement," the researchers wrote.

Why don't managers give positive feedback? Zenger and Folkman suggest some managers might pride themselves on being a "tough grader" or believe that giving praise is a "sign of weakness." Other managers may not know how to effectively compliment an employee's efforts, Zenger and Folkman write. 

The consequences of avoiding positive feedback

But avoiding positive feedback can hurt employee engagement and performance, writes Leah Fessler for Quartz. And studies suggest that high-performing teams receive almost six times more positive feedback than those who are not as effective, she adds. 

"The dark side of sugarcoating and avoiding honest feedback is a dysfunction and disconnection, which leads to an unproductive team," says Lou Solomon, CEO of Interact, a communications consulting firm. 

How to give positive feedback

So what's the right way to do it? 

Fessler recommends keeping some general guidelines in mind: specificity, impact, and gratitude. For example, general feedback such as "awesome job" does not do the job. Instead, try to identify a specific act and its resultant impact on the wider team, she writes.

She also recommends expressing genuine gratitude for the behavior that merited the praise, which she argues is best done face-to-face, where you can exhibit a smile and other encouraging body language indicators (Fessler, Quartz, 6/22; Folkman/Zenger, Harvard Business Review, 5/2).

To retain top talent, managers matter


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