As an employee (UE or otherwise) grows into new skills or responsibilities, acknowledgments can be particularly powerful. The idea is related to positive reinforcement; but rather than being a ‘feel-good technique,’ as some managers fear, acknowledgements are the equivalent of a verbal progress report that allows you to direct an employee’s progress by commenting, in an appropriate and credible way, on her efforts, successes and strengths as she moves toward achieving her goal.
It sounds simple, and yet acknowledgments can be a hard skill for busy managers to learn. Part of that is resistance to soft skills, but part of it is just not knowing how to say the words. To give an effective acknowledgment, you must do the following three things:
1. Catch Your Employee Doing Something Right
Okay, be honest! How often do you see an employee doing something well, and neglect to mention it? And how often do you see the same employee doing something wrong, and comment immediately? Most managers would answer “usually” to both those questions. And that’s not surprising, given that your focus is improving employee performance. But if you only point out an employee’s mistakes, you’re training him to expect criticism every time you open your mouth.
The key to making positive feedback a cornerstone of your effective management technique is simply to catch your employees doing things right, and then tell them, in specific detail, what you saw!
2. Look for Areas of Progress
As you practice “catching your employee doing things right,” look in particular for behaviors that indicate areas of progress or growth. Most of us enjoy positive words; but those words can be especially sweet when they recognize the specific ways that we’re working hard to improve our performance.
When an employee stretches his comfort zone, when she responds to constructive feedback, when he takes a risk or achieves a milestone, that’s the time for an acknowledgment.
3. Be Specific, Objective, and Matter-of-Fact
When you do acknowledge progress, be sure to make your comments objective. Seems simple enough, right? But it’s not. Most managers praise, instead of giving an acknowledgment; and there’s a big difference in the impact of each.
There are several key differences between praise and acknowledgment:
- Praise is general (“Nice job at today’s meeting”); acknowledgment is specific (“I saw you speak up at today’s meeting with a clearly outlined plan for next week’s press conference”).
- Praise gives you the power to judge (“That was a great report!”); acknowledgment shows a snapshot of what you observed (“This report was much more detailed than your last one”).
- Praise is often extravagant (“You did an awesome job with the team”); acknowledgment is matter-of-fact (“I noticed that your facilitating style allowed everyone to make their point in the allotted time”).
As you can see, although an acknowledgment is measured and objective, it’s much more personal and impactful than praise. Praise could apply to many people; but because of its specific and precise nature, an acknowledgment can only be about the specific person you’re talking to.