Step 2 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Reinforce the positive behaviors

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This article is the latest in a series of articles identifying the step for  how employees can better provide feedback to managers.  In the previous article, I describe the first step for providing feedback to your manager is to create a log on your manager’s behavior and the impact of the behavior.  This way you can identify patterns and even simply change your own behavior and strategies that change the dynamic without having to go into giving feedback.  It’s a start.  Now, on to providing feedback, and that’s step two: Reinforce the positive behaviors that you want to see repeated.

Giving feedback to a manager is a lot easier if you focus on the behaviors that you like and want to see more of from your boss.  But it isn’t a matter of just saying, Good job to your boss.  You have to be more systematic and specific than that.  The idea is that you want to provide reinforcement of the specific things that your boss did, with the aim that you are training your boss to continue to do the things you like.  Setting up the process of positive reinforcement is designed to re-focus the boss’s efforts to the things that work for you and your team.

The things that don’t work do not get reinforced, so boss does these things less over time.   Instead, your boss is likely to increase the reinforced behaviors to continue to get the positive reinforcement.

Does this sound manipulative?  Of course it is!  Any time you give feedback to anyone, you’re essentially trying to manipulate the behaviors so that they get better.  The fastest way to manipulate things is to focus on the positive instead of focusing on the negative.  In doing this effort, be silent about the negative behaviors and be vocal about the positive behaviors.

OK, so here are the steps.

1. Start a log

In a spreadsheet, have a log that identifies the things that you observe about your manager.

Item num-ber Date Name Title Con-text Ob-served be-havior Impact of observed behavior Preferred behavior

In the previous article, I discussed using this log to identify negative behaviors, and in so doing, you can identify patterns and come up with strategies not involving feedback that can improve the situation.

In today’s article, I recommend focusing on the positive things the manager did. Hmm. . .what are these kinds things?  The manager resolved a blocking issue.  The manager canceled a team meeting that was useless.   The manager provided feedback on a document that improved the document.  The manager attended a presentation and provided supportive points that changed the direction of the meeting for the better.  The manager led a session that effectively set expectations for the team in the coming year.

Managers do all sorts of small things that end up being big things.  Hence the importance of being a manager!  However, they don’t always get feedback that these things helped, so it’s a tough situation – should they keep doing that kind of thing, or do it differently?  With positive reinforcement from the staff, the boss gradually learns what to do.

If the employee keeps a log and identifies these things that actually seemed to work and make things better, then this should be documented!

2. Provide the feedback

Now that you have the positive behaviors documented, you can now embark on your project to provide specific and immediate feedback to the boss.  The more specific and the more immediate, the more artful the feedback is.  If this is an option, you might want to practice at first with email, to get the steps right. (Note: Negative feedback should be given verbally.)  The components of the feedback should be same as what was in the log:

  1. Provide context: When and where did this observed behavior happen?  What were the circumstances?
  2. Described observed behavior: Make sure you describe what the boss did. Do not generalize (for example, “You rocked it!”) or use value judgments ( “You’re the best.”).  Instead, describe what the manager did (i.e., “You stepped in when Mark was showing resistance to the proposal, articulated his concerns, and described how the proposal was designed to address his concerns.”)  Yes, it’s more wordy than “You rocked it!”
  3. Articulate perceived impact: Here is where you can be more subjective as to what the results of the behavior were, “I believe that this was the turning point in the meeting and I think that this created the resolution to a long outstanding issue.”  Don’t overstate the impact (i.e., “Everything will be better now”)
  4. Express thanks for the behavior: Don’t mess it up and thank the boss for everything he or she does.  Thank the boss for that behavior that you j articulated, “Thank you for stepping in and helping make the meeting go better.”

The nice thing about focusing on the positive behaviors is that this can be done either via email or verbally, since there isn’t likely to be too much debate from the boss about how brilliant his or her efforts were.

3. Repeat – but only when there was a specific behavior that you actively liked

Keep managing the log on your boss, and keep looking for positive behaviors that you like.  These are the behaviors that you think have a positive impact on you getting your job done, in helping the team perform better as a team, and make the working environment better.  At first, provide the positive feedback every time the manager does the desired behavior, and then, when it’s on the verge of being repetitive, provide this feedback on the positive behavior intermittently.  If there are new behaviors that you like, provide regular feedback to reinforce those behaviors.

If you and a few of your colleagues start doing this, you are embarking on a systematic effort to make your boss better.  The things you reinforce should be focused on the managerial tasks that make your team run better and help achieve results.  Sorry, but this won’t work with things like promotions, pay increases (“I liked it when you gave me the promotion – this has a positive impact. . .”), just specific actions that make the work go better.

So if you are looking to give feedback to your manager, this is the way to start!  Your manager will appreciate this, and you may even get improved performance by your manager.

In my next article, I’ll discuss what to do to give feedback on behaviors you don’t like.

Have you tried to give positive feedback to your manager systematically?  Have you ever engaged in a team-wide effort to improve your manager’s behaviors?

Related articles:

Step 1 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Prepare for it and you might get some insights

Step 3 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Ask how your manager prefers to receive feedback

Step 4 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Prepare by talking to Human Resources first

Step 5 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Identifying what the feedback is and when to give the feedback

Step 6 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Phrases to use during the feedback conversation

How do employees give feedback to their manager?

How to give feedback to your manager: Some possible openings

How about managers ask for feedback from their employees?

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 1)

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 2)

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 3)

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


5 Responses to “Step 2 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Reinforce the positive behaviors”


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  1. […] Step 2: Provide positive reinforcement to the behaviors you like […]

  2. […] Make note of positive interactions:When you’re frustrated, your negative feelings can spiral out of control if you don’t keep them in check. What starts as mild annoyance can morph into full-blown hatred if you’re not careful. Make sure, even just for the sake of your own mental health, that you mentally acknowledge the positive things your boss does. Even small things can go a long way toward shaping a more neutral opinion of him, making it easier to deal with him on a daily basis. And if your boss has made an attempt to fix something that you’ve mentioned, don’t hesitate to tell him how much you appreciate it. […]

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