Feedback is the Perfect Gift

by Merrick Rosenberg


Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, something else, or nothing at all, you can't deny that at this time of year, the feeling of giving is in the air. We see it under a Christmas tree, in a barrel filled with toys for those who can't afford them, or in a box filled with bags of food for animals that have not yet found a home.

As we look for gifts for our coworkers, there is one gift that is free, but perhaps the most valuable of all...the gift of feedback.

The people around us are constantly doing things that are perfect opportunities for feedback. Yet most people let these moments pass with little or no recognition. A study by Dr. Gerald Graham at Wichita State University found that a verbal and written thank you from one's manager were the two top incentives as reported by employees. In a follow-up study, he found that 58% of employees seldom if ever received verbal thanks from their manager and 76% of employees seldom if ever received a written thank you.

I have several people on my staff and I must admit, I fall victim to the all-too-often recited excuse, "I just don't think about it." Or another classic, "Sure, they did a great job, but they were just doing their job. Does that really warrant feedback?"

How easy it would be for me to turn to my direct reports, such as Cathryn Zanoni, the Training Coordinator at Team Builders Plus, and tell her how important she is to helping all of us be successful. How much effort would it really take to tell her that her ability to juggle ten balls in the air at the same time and never drop one is so critical to our effectiveness that we'd be lost without her? It took minimal effort to ask Armand Spoto, Organizational Development Manager at the Brickman Group about her. When I did, he told me, "Cathryn is a pleasure to work with. She is one of the most conscientious individuals I have ever met. She truly has the best interest of the client at heart without compromising the integrity and reputation of Team Builders Plus." And how easy it would be to provide this feedback to her.

I could have shared with Ken Blackwell, one of our Senior Executive Consultants who has been with Team Builders Plus since 1993, that his humor, insight, and unwavering passion to transform leaders and teams, makes coming to work feel like a personal mission to make the world a better place, one leader or one team at a time.

I'm sure Ken would be pleased to know what his clients think of him and by simply asking the question to Jonathan Cordell of Berlex, I learned, "Ken has made a great contribution to our company in helping us change our culture, especially in implementing 360-degree feedback and improving our development offerings. I have only heard praise of Ken from coaching candidates with whom he has worked and several have taken the step to request extending their coaching relationship. It is this level of effective service provided by Ken that is helping us to improve as an organization."

Stew Bolno, another one of our Senior Executive Consultants has more than twenty years of experience and has taught me so much... and I can't recall if I ever thanked him. I know that his clients benefit from his wisdom as well. It's no surprise that many of his clients have continued to work with him year after year.

As Michael Schmidt of Ace told me, "Stew helps us focus on the fundamentals of sales, and the importance of listening to our clients. His efforts in working with our business have led to improved retention and client management."

Even new staff members, perhaps especially new staff members, can benefit from feedback as well. Jennifer Grinfeld, who joined Team Builders Plus in September, should know that even in such as short period of time, her contribution to the work we do at Team Builders Plus has been helpful and appreciated. She has already become an integral part of our team. In fact, I should probably tell her how happy I am that the first client for whom she facilitated a team building program already specifically requested Jennifer to conduct additional training.

Feedback should not only flow downward, but also upward and laterally. When a peer does something well, we should point it out. And yes, when a manager does something positive, we should tell them as well. Unfortunately, I have found that people rarely provide feedback to their peers and managers. For example, Jeff Backal, President of Team Builders Plus, should know that I am inspired by his dedication, commitment and hard work that have allowed Team Builders Plus to work with more than a quarter of the Fortune 100 companies since we began in 1991.

Meredith Bell, President of Performance Support Systems, told me, "I've had the privilege of working with Jeff Backal for more than 10 years and he's led Team Builders Plus to be one of the top sellers of our online survey software, 20/20 Insight GOLD, for every one of those years. Jeff combines strong business acumen with genuine concern for delivering world-class service to his clients - a rare combination in my experience. And he's a joy to work with! He has a great sense of humor and is very creative in helping clients find long-term solutions to their challenges."

Go Beyond, "Good Job."

In this season of giving, take a moment to give thanks to the people around you. But when you do, make it meaningful. "Good job," is not enough. Point out specifically what they have done and describe the positive impact of their actions. Personalize the feedback so they know that you truly appreciate them.

According to a Gallup poll of 10,000 workgroups in 30 industries, individualization is the key to effective recognition. In order for recognition to be meaningful, it must be tailored to the recipient's preferences, not the giver's preferences.

To determine preferences, ask questions such as: 

  • What types of recognition do you like best? Public or private? Written, verbal or other? 
  • What do you like to receive feedback about? (e.g. Results, quality, innovation, the way you worked with people, successes)
  • What is the greatest recognition that you have ever received?
And most importantly, when you reward this individual with feedback, be sincere. Your words must come from your heart or they will not enter theirs.

Do it now

When I conduct training programs on providing effective feedback, I often ask the participants to think about a direct report or coworker. Then I ask them to identify three accomplishments or things that this individual has done well in the past two months. Finally, I ask them if they have provided positive feedback to this person regarding their achievements. For most people, the answer is "no" to at least two of the three items. The message is clear...we need to provide more positive feedback.

In response to the question, "Looking back, if you could have changed one thing in your life, what would it be," the Duke of Wellington replied, "I would have given more praise."

Here's your chance. Select a coworker and identify what they do well. Then take the final step and share it with them. Consider what Mark Twain said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment."