The Value of Providing Expectations: Positive reinforcement proliferates

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In my previous article, I noted how setting team expectations can help a manager identify when and how to provide corrective feedback.

There is another value to providing expectations to your team:  It allows you and your team to provide reinforcing feedback, and more of it.  Reinforcing feedback, also known as positive feedback, is much easier to give and receive than corrective feedback.  The key is to reinforce the right thing!

That’s where the expectation-setting comes in.  If the team expectations have been set, then they can be reinforced.  On the flip side, if no expectations have been set, then what gets reinforced will be generally random.  Some of good behaviors get reinforced, and some of bad behaviors get reinforced.

So if you set team expectations, then you and your team are much more likely to reinforce the desired behaviors. As previously written on this blog, the manager should be spending a good chuck of time reinforcing positive behaviors.

In the example I used in the previous article, was the manager set the following general team expectation:

The team will foster an atmosphere of sharing ideas

In this example, let’s say the team actually conducts a meeting where the various team members support each others’ ideas, and allowed everyone to provide their input.  The manager observes this and agrees that this reflects the expectation of “fostering an atmosphere of sharing ideas.”

Now the manager needs to reinforce this!  The manager can reinforce this in a few different ways.

1. Feedback to the group at the end of the meeting

At the end of the meeting the manager can say:

“This meeting reflected what we are looking for in fostering an atmosphere of ideas.  I saw people on the team asking others for their ideas, and I saw that ideas, once offered, weren’t shot down and instead were praised for being offered.  This allowed more ideas to be shared.  Thanks for doing this, and I like seeing this.”

This would be general feedback to the team environment.  I’ve written in the past how a manager should not give corrective feedback in a team environment, (this creates confusion by those who are doing things right).  But when the team performs as a team, and according to expectations, this should be reinforced, and specifically and immediately.  The team knows it is doing something right, and will likely try to keep doing this if it is reinforced.  This is high-impact managing.

2. Specific feedback to individuals after the meeting

Just because you did positive reinforcement during the meeting doesn’t mean you’re done providing positive reinforcement.  There are more opportunities.  Take advantage of them!  If there were individual behaviors that you like and want to see continued, then tell the person who was performing these behaviors.  Since it is specific to that one person, I recommend doing this in a one-on-one setting:

“During the meeting you did a great job at drawing out the opinions of all on the team.  I saw how you specifically asked James, who tends not to speak up, to provide his thoughts, and when he did, you thanked him for doing this.  This contributes to our functioning more highly as a team, and I appreciate that.”

The feedback still draws on specifics (the more specific the better), ties to the team expectations, and encourages continuing this behavior.  The closer to the event the better.  You might also want to log this on a performance log.

Similarly, by virtue of reinforcing the behaviors that reflect team expectations, it becomes more likely that the team members themselves will start reinforcing behaviors that drive toward team expectations.  It is a lot easier for peers to give reinforcing feedback to one another than corrective feedback.  And they will follow the manager’s lead in this.  This is how a positive feedback culture can be generated.

So a manager should be looking for opportunities to offer thanks and praise, and if a team does something according to set team expectations, then the manager needs to take advantage of this opportunity!

Related Articles:

The Art of Providing Feedback: Make it Specific and Immediate

Examples of when to offer thanks and when to offer praise

Behavior-based language primer for managers: How to tell if you are using behavior-based language

How Public Feedback Can Make the Situation Worse

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

The art of providing expectations: If there are established performance criteria, then make them known!

The art of providing expectations: Get input and the earlier the better

The art of providing expectations: Tie the expectations to the larger strategy

The art of providing expectations: Describe the general guidelines of behavior

The value of providing expectations: Performance feedback proliferates and becomes more artful

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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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