Managers should provide focus on what’s going right and reward those behaviors

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In the last few articles, I’ve been discussing managers’ too-frequent negative reactions to problems.  The “red” stuff on a scorecard, for example.  They will act surprised and/or angry.  As I pointed out, this is not the manager’s job to act surprised and angry when problems arise.

But let’s say that the problems aren’t the most important thing – maybe the more important thing has a status of “green” on a report or scorecard.   If you ignore the stuff that is going well, you are missing opportunities to be a great manager.

The green stuff – things that are not problems – these should be reinforced positively.  Rather than focus on the stuff needing improvement, talk about what is going well. Discuss specifically what it was that the employees did to earn that green status.  Identify the actions taken, and call out why this is a good thing.

1. You’ll discover who is doing well and why

You may discover in this conversation that people on your team did many things that prevented problems in the first place.  You may learn methods that could be used elsewhere on your team.

You may identify high performers who create “green status” without any drama.  Many managers descend into a dynamic where they are close to only those who are reacting to problems – the firefighters – at the detriment of those who prevented the fires from starting in the first place.

Focusing on the green items on the status report is a chance surface the people on your team who get the work done right the first time.  They are the ones who try to prevent drama rather than create drama.

2. You’ll reinforce the behaviors and set the correct expectations for how the team works together

When you reinforce the behaviors that your team performed to obtain the green status, you identify your expectations on how employees should be working together, should be preventing problems rather than only solving them.  Now the employees will attempt to do the things that create the green results.  This is how you create a virtuous cycle of performance – identify the actions that created the great results, and positively reinforce those things.

3. Focus on the behaviors and reinforce them

Note: this is not as simple as just saying you like the things that are green on a scorecard.  Doing that is a management shortcut that is devoid of meaning: If you simply reinforce items that are green, rather than the actions that made it “green”, then you are going to get a lot of “false” greens.  This is why the specific and immediate feedback has to be specific as to the actions, not just the results.

When you have identified the actions that built toward the results and you have the results, you can then thank those who performed these actions for their good work, which is usually better than the hard work that the reactive employees are still performing.

When was the last time you took extra time to figure out what was going right in your organization, who was behind it, and what they were doing?  Did you thank them for it and use these team members as examples of great work?

Related articles:

Examples of when to offer thanks and when to offer praise

“Thanks for your Hard Work” vs. “Thanks for your Good Work”

If you’re the manager, it’s your job not to act surprised

Managers behaving badly: Training the team not to report bad news

What to do when you see a status or metric as “Red”

Examples of providing expectations to your team

Examples of using expectations to improve your performance feedback

Performance feedback is a means to improve your expectation-providing skills

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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 .

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