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Positive Feedback Conversation Guide

Of all the performance conversations you hold, positive feedback is often the most difficult to get right. This seems odd. After all, a bit of praise, happy staff, hey presto!

Of all the performance conversations you hold, positive feedback is often the most difficult to get right. This seems odd. After all, a bit of praise, happy staff, hey presto!

But positive feedback is about more than a simple, “Wow, amazing job.” When people accomplish something important or put in special effort, understanding the meaning and significance of that achievement helps them to see how they add value. It also gives them an opportunity to explore how to leverage those capabilities to maximum effect.

Put together, this is both your team’s and organization’s unique edge. It’s what differentiates you from your competitors. And it’s a conversation that needs skilled guidance on your part.

How to structure positive feedback using CEDAR

Knowing how to structure the conversation will give you confidence and help you to engage your team member in the most productive way.

The CEDAR Feedback Model

The CEDAR steps have been developed from thousands of real-life conversations between managers and their people and will help you to get the best out of the conversation. Here’s how to use them to lead your positive feedback conversations.

Context

A piece of feedback is like a free-floating fragment of information. Putting it into the wider context at the beginning of your discussion anchors that fragment, helping each person to see how important it is and how it fits into their overall performance. To place the feedback within the bigger picture:

  • Explain upfront that the conversation is about something the team member has done well.
  • Use words that reflect the right level of appreciation. These need to be genuine and avoid either overstating or understating the case.
  • Help your team member to understand the significance of this feedback. For example, was it something day-to-day or major? What was the level of impact? Who was affected?
  • Explore their perspective about what happened, but keep in mind they may be slow to contribute at this stage. This reticence may be caused by nervousness — they are waiting for bad news to follow — or because they’re not experienced in exploring their strengths.

Examples

Illustrating the situation with concrete examples is the best possible way to create clarity. To explore examples:

  • Lead first with your observations. Your aim in most feedback discussions is to encourage each team member to lead the conversation as much as possible, but positive feedback is often far more powerful if you give the examples first.
  • Ask for their examples. Encourage your team member to add their own instances and illustrations.
  • Emphasize their effort as much as their results. Help people to see the importance of perseverance and determination.

Diagnosis

Crucially, people need to understand why they are where they are. Helping them to make connections between cause and effect develops crucial insights, insights that can make all the difference to the actions they choose. To explore this step:

  • Begin by analyzing any “trade winds” that created favorable conditions such as having a great team, a big budget, or many ready customers.
  • Next, carefully explore the direct link between their specific skills and actions and the outcomes achieved. What exactly did they do that was so effective? What skills did they use?
  • Be patient. Insights take time and people will almost certainly need a moment to think things through.

Action

Most importantly of all, feedback needs to help people decide what to do next in the light of their feedback. With positive feedback, this means thinking how best to leverage their capabilities: as the saying goes, “Once they’ve nailed it, then scale it.”

  • Ask what actions might be useful. Talk through where there might be opportunities to use their capabilities and build their expertise further. This may be in similar situations, but it’s surprising how often people will suggest other possibilities.
  • Provide your support. This will depend on the situation, but might involve, for example, delegating a task they would like to take on, introducing them to a new area of work, or giving them additional autonomy.
  • Encourage them to notice opportunities in the future. Follow-up actions aren’t always possible, but even if nothing comes to mind, the thought will have been planted. They’ll then be more likely to recognize openings when these do crop up.

Review

The last step is to plan how best to follow up and see how well the actions are working.

  • At the end of your discussion, set a date to touch base over the next few days or weeks to keep up momentum. Your encouragement will energize people and create an expectation for deliberate practice.
  • After the discussion, provide opportunities for people to practice. Repetition will help strengths to become habits. It’s the reason why a sportsperson will practice a shot over and over. As Sam Snead, one of the world’s greatest golfers, put it, “Practice puts brains in your muscles.”
  • Be ready with any support that your team member needs (this will depend on the plan).

A final thought

Most feedback conversations usually cover both positive and developmental feedback, a mix of things that have gone well and things that have been more challenging. Occasionally, however, aim to hold a conversation about what the person has done well with no “but here’s what you need to improve…”

Downloads

Positive Feedback Conversation Guide for managers
Positive Feedback Conversation Guide for team members
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