All employees want feedback and good bosses know that giving it appropriately is one of the single most effective ways to improve performance.
But as I consult to different businesses, I'm often struck by how very bland and routine much of the feedback is. I'm talking about: "Good job!" "Nice work!" "You're the greatest!"
These comments are positive, but they aren't feedback. Why? Because they don't tell employees what they did right--only that they did do something that met with approval. It gives them no clue as to what particular talent or habit you're trying to reinforce.
The work of psychologist Carol Dweck is germane here. What she's found is that, when children are praised in abstract--"You're so smart" or "You're so creative"--rather than concretely about how they improved their performance--"You put in an enormous amount of work, and it paid off"--the feedback is diminished. How come? Because the child takes from the teacher or parent the idea that she is innately smart or creative, and that she doesn't need to work at it--so she doesn't.
On the other hand, very specific feedback--especially about something an individual can control--can work wonders. "You are so reliable," "I love the fact that you are always on time," or "Your research is so meticulous" tells the recipient exactly what proved so valuable. And it inspires more of the same. Nobody praised for punctuality decides they don't need to be on time any more; if anything, it makes them more determined than ever not to let you down.
I can't help but be struck by the volumes of mindless praise I hear regularly in the workplace. I know it's well intended but it isn't effective.
Put a little extra throught in. Identify the action that delivered the result--and you make everyone better.