Why Specific Positive Feedback is So Important.

Not all feedback is created equally.

There are two kinds of good feedback: constructive feedback & specific positive feedback. 

“Constructive feedback” occurs when you give someone feedback on how to improve on the work they’ve done. 

For example, if you’re taking a golf lesson and your instructor suggests you shift your weight a little to the left to improve your form, this is constructive feedback. 

It’s specific, targeted, timely, and helps millions of people every day. It helps to get rid of non-productive habits in favor of productive ones.

Constructive feedback (for good reason) has been the practice of choice for many great managers, coaches, parents, friends, and leaders.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“Specific positive feedback” occurs when you explain to someone what they did well. 

Most people think this type of feedback is a pat on the back and a “great job.” But it’s more than that. It’s dissecting the WHY and HOW behind someone’s good work. 

Giving specific positive feedback is hard because you generally have to spend a lot of time with them or see many variations of their work to catch what they did well. 

For example, you might have to watch someone take 100 golf swings before they shift their weight correctly and you can point out what a great swing they had and why (even if it was by accident). 

Photo by Court Cook on Unsplash

There is power in pointing out what someone did well. If they did it once, it means they can do it again. It is attainable. It is possible.  

Many people do good work without completely understanding how they did it. Positive feedback is about teaching them why and how their work was effective so they can continue to produce and improve on their method.

It’s about giving them the information they can’t see for themselves. A good tennis instructor will walk a player through HOW they hit the serve so well or WHY one of their forehands had so much power. 

Like constructive feedback, great positive feedback is specific, targeted, and timely. It doesn’t need to happen immediately after an action, but it does need to happen while the memories are still fresh.

Positive feedback, when applied correctly, is the single best way to get most people to grow.

Positive feedback promotes growth. It’s the best way to help someone else get better.

And the more feedback you get, the faster you’ll grow. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people that will give you consistent feedback. You don’t just want feedback from your manager or CEO, you want it from everyone else too.

And it’s the CEO who should set this tone. They should promote a culture of feedback by openly inviting it on themself from not only direct reports, but interns, investors, and peers too. Ideally, everyone around you is giving feedback to everyone else and you are a part of it.  

This is hard to do. I aim to reach this level but often fail to ask for feedback myself.  And sometimes I harp on the negative instead of working on highlighting the positive.  

Specific positive feedback helps employees move from good to great by doubling down on what they are already good at. 

When you give positive feedback on how and why an employee’s work is quality, you are helping them improve on something they are already good at. That’s one of the secrets to success — ignoring “balance” to double down on your skills and go from good to great.

I wrote about this in an article called “To become a superstar, improve your strengths (not your faults).” Here’s the main idea:  

“To really differentiate yourself in this winner-take-all world, you should be focusing on improving your strengths, not your weaknesses… focus on one or two of the things at which you excel and hone those skills or talents to the point of excellence.”

Positive feedback helps the employee hone their skill or talent by breaking down why it’s effective. From there, they can repeat and tweak to improve their skill to go from good to great.

SafeGraph’s focus on growth.

One of SafeGraph’s six core values is a “focus on growth.”  We write:

“Great team members continue to improve and grow. The only way to do that is to actively solicit feedback on how to get better and find ways to work on one’s strengths. Great team members also focus on making those around them better, and they give feedback often. Giving constructive feedback (suggestions of how to improve flaws) is helpful but giving specific, positive feedback can lead to even faster growth and higher leverage of people’s strengths. We have extremely high expectations of ourselves and of our team members.”

Anyone can provide specific positive feedback. 

You don’t need to be someone’s manager to give them specific positive feedback. In a bottoms-up system (vs. active management), the intern can actually give specific feedback on a CEO’s presentation because they might see something interesting from their vantage point. 

Giving this feedback is hard because you have to be hyper-observant.  But it can be a growth game-changer if done correctly.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

For example, if an employee just crushed a presentation to a client, anyone from the company who saw the presentation can provide positive feedback. Maybe it was the presenter’s energy that made the difference. Or perhaps it was the clarity of thought and natural progression of the presentation that made it persuasive. Once the presenter hears this positive feedback, they can recreate it for their next presentation. 

This builds a culture of trust at the company. 

Specific positive feedback builds a culture of trust because everyone is expected to contribute to each other’s growth. When the intern is capable of motivating and improving the CEO, this implicitly instills trust throughout the organization.

And at a start-up, where the team needs to move very quickly and make judgment calls without pre-established guidelines or extensive experience, trust is a necessary prerequisite for success.

Positivity is a superpower. 

There is something special about positivity. It’s the fuel that allows a small group of people to believe they can create something new and change the world as they do it. Positivity is inherent in the “yes, and” mentality that motivates others to keep getting better. It’s a superpower. 

Positive feedback is so important because it captures this power and combines it with tangible feedback to help employees and the company as a whole grow. Use it often. 

Special thanks to Thomas Waschenfelder for his help and edits.

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