Today I continue my extended series on managers using perceptions to manage the team. Imagine a manager who starts a performance feedback session with “There’s a perception that. . . you don’t actively participate.” Or “There’s a perception that. . . you’ve fallen behind on your work.”
But I have more reasons! Today I examine why positive perceptions are not cited when managers manage perceptions.
10. “There’s a perception that. . .” is rarely used for positive things, underscoring the absurdity of the line
Have you ever noticed that a manager never sits down with an employee and says, “There’s a perception that you deliver on time with high quality and exceptional teamwork”? or “There’s a perception that you bring talents to the group that no one else has.” Or “There’s a perception that you designed and created an infrastructure that increased productivity by 40% and reduced costs by 60%”. Or perhaps a more pedestrian example, “There’s a perception that you’re always on time.”
Hmm. . . as soon as it’s positive things, the “perception” line seems to be unnecessary and weird. . .if the perception of the thing is a the positive thing. Managers who can articulate the positive thing don’t need to add the “There’s a perception that. . .”
11. It twists positive feedback into negative feedback even for positive behaviors and perceptions!
Let’s take a look at the below chart. In it we have an example of a manager giving negative “feedback” and positive “feedback” while inserting the “there’s a perception” line.
Normally, when you give positive feedback on something, it means that you want the employee to keep doing that behavior, or do it with more frequency. But in this chart, you can see that by adding the “there’s a perception” line to the positive feedback, the implication is that something is wrong – that the perception is false in some way and the perception needs to be adjusted to a more realistic perception. (Ironically, when the perception is a negative one, that perception is widely believed to be true.) On top of that, the implication is that the underlying behaviors that created that over-inflated perception also need to be changed so that future perceptions will be the more realistic perception.
So by adding the “there’s a perception” line to a positive behavior, it turns it into a negative perception and a negative behavior. Now the employee has to change both perceptions and the underlying behaviors – on something that is being praised!
In short, it becomes twisted when a positive perception implies that things need to change. Read more
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.”
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.
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.
An example of tracking positive performance and praise of an employee in an employee performance log
A great manager needs to know the good stuff that is happening on the team. What you track shouldn’t be only areas you’d like to correct. In fact, it should be mostly positive! People come to work and try to get good things done all the time. If the manager doesn’t know what those things are, then the manager is missing lots of opportunities to provide thanks and praise. Also, the manager is going to quickly get a reputation for ignoring good work.
I advocate for creating an employee performance log to track employee behaviors. In previous articles, I provide a beginner version, an intermediate version, and an advanced version. While such a log can and should be used for tracking corrective feedback and potential issues with an employee (an example is provided here), a great manager should exert a great amount of energy identifying and understanding the great behaviors that are observed on the job, and the impact the performance of the team.
So today I provide an example of how this can be done on the employee performance log – a positive example!
Here are some thoughts on when to thank your employees and when to praise your employees:
Thanks is connected to acknowledgement of work being done
You thank your employees when they do something that is within the regular job duties, and it marks some delivered item by the employee.
The threshold for earning thanks can be very, very low. Showing up to a meeting can earn thanks. An email that responds to your question can earn thanks. An employee who followed up on something for you can earns thanks. An employee who is simply does their job – and the moment they finish the part of the job they worked on – can earn thanks. Someone completing a car repair. That can earn a “Thank you for completing that repair” from the manager. Someone returning from a sales call. That can earn a “Thank your for doing that sales call.”
When you become a manager, expect to be giving a lot of “Thanks” to your employees. Unless it is already obvious what you are thanking them for, you will want to specify what you are thanking your employee for:
“Thanks for completing that job.”
“Thanks for your input.”
“Thanks for getting here on time.”
’ve recently posted several articles providing guidance on how managers can keep a performance log of their employees. You can either go beginner level (start tracking behaviors to check for trends and impact), intermediate level (track your performance feedback), and advanced level (track the change in behavior and impact after the feedback).
But how do you get started? Here’s an easy tip: Focus on documenting the behaviors that you like and praise.
Let’s not dwell on that negative stuff right now. Instead, seek out and identify the stuff that your employees are doing well, and be sure to praise the employee directly for this. Praise is quickly given and easily performed. It is cheap and it is well-received. Now, ideally, you don’t just say, “good job” or “I like that.” You have to say why it is a good job, and, if possible, what the impact is. And it still needs to use behavior-based language.
But it is also easily forgotten!
So after you perform the praise, stay on top of your game and document it in your performance log. Here are some good things that can happen:
A popular thing for a manger to say—often in a team setting— is “Thanks for your hard work!” A popular addition is, “Thanks for your hard work and long hours.” Have you ever heard this? If you are a manager, have you ever said this?
The context is usually at the end of a project, after a release, or perhaps a budget review cycle. The managers says, “We put in a lot of long hours, and hard work. Thanks to all those who toiled to get this done!”
Hard work should definitely be appreciated, as it did, indeed get the work done. But is it worthy of praise? And in a team setting? I don’t think so. Read more