Why Constant Feedback is Lethal

On a recent flight, I struck up a conversation with my seat-mate, Leah, who was putting together a presentation entitled “Creating a Coaching Culture.”

After learning more about her project, I shared a bit about my work with generational diversity and executive coaching, after which Leah explained, “Our seasoned professionals have got to learn how to give a great deal more feedback. Young professionals were given a trophy just for being on a team growing up, and they’re used to receiving constant feedback.”

Having heard that very idea expressed a billion times over the past decade, and even having said so myself, I couldn’t quite figure out why it seemed so wrong in the moment.

It’s certainly true that young professionals got trophies just for being on teams, and that they’ve gotten tons of feedback on everything as a form of encouragement. But is training seasoned professionals to provide constant validation really the best solution to the problem?

No! That is, unless you want to suck the life out of your team!

Consistent feedback and coaching are essential components of effective leadership. Leaders who wait until annual performance reviews to point out areas in which their employees could improve lose out on a year’s worth of opportunities to strengthen their teams.

However, there’s a big difference between providing productive feedback/coaching and providing constant validation and praise for everything from performing basic job functions to simply showing up for work.

Sure, we all want to occasionally hear that we’re doing a good job and to know that our bosses appreciate us. But employees who need constant praise and reassurance can drain the time and energy of their leaders and teams.

Also, when we encourage leaders to constantly validate their direct reports, rather than reserve praise for moments when they’re genuinely impressed, we’re encouraging them to be inauthentic. And most people – particularly high-achievers who take pride in their work – can spot phoniness a mile away, making the unearned praise a source of irritation, not inspiration.

My friend Jacob interned with a non-profit organization where he had a boss who, as he put it, “constantly praised `C` work.” While this leader was probably trying to boost morale, his style had the opposite effect on Jacob.

“My motivation went through the floor, because simply showing up and putting my butt in the seat was considered miraculous,” Jacob explained. “The only thing worse than not being recognized for excellent work is being praised for mediocre work.”

So, is there a way leaders can teach their employees, across generations, to give themselves a bit of validation and reassurance – leaving them feeling empowered, rather than needy? Absolutely!

Ultimately, most people know how they’re doing, even if they don’t realize it. If this is true, then perhaps the answer lies in providing the right questions, rather than the right feedback.

Instead of telling your employees that they’re doing a great job or where they can improve, ask them, “Where do you think you’re doing a great job, and where do you think you can improve?”

Not only will this strategy save you the time and energy needed to pat everyone on the back all the time, but it will also allow them access to their own validation. And there is no more powerful or important validation than our own.

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes.

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