It’s that time of year again – the time when leaders review the past year, frequently introducing the task with phrases like “What are the lessons learned?” or “Where can we do better?” or even “Let’s sit down and do a postmortem.” Such sober reflection is important – critical, in fact, for business success. But to really end the year well and set yourself up for a great start in the new year, we encourage you to pair reflection with its oft-neglected sibling: celebration.
We’re not talking about holding the traditional holiday party. We’re talking about giving appreciative, affirming feedback for the great work that has been accomplished over the past twelve months.
We have a huge passion for giving feedback and consider it one of the primary responsibilities for every leader. But too often when leaders think about feedback, the only image that comes to mind is “redirecting” feedback; that is, feedback that points out areas for change and growth. That is vital, but equally vital is “reinforcing” feedback that applauds successes and identifies behaviors you want to see repeated over and over again. Reinforcing feedback is appreciative and affirmative and, as such, it builds strong relationships, strengthens morale, and motivates people to do their very best. It also contributes to employee retention, which is definitely a hot topic right now for businesses in all industries.
Celebrating successes and affirming positive behaviors does not mean patting someone on the back and saying, “Great work!” That is vague at best and meaningless at worst. Appreciative feedback is effective when it specifies what was done, why it was important, and what impact it had. For example, “You have done an amazing job over this past year working collaboratively with our vendors to overcome complicated supply chain issues. It is because of your tireless efforts that the X, Y, and Z projects were not delayed. We were therefore able to meet our customer obligations on time and on budget.”
We encourage giving affirming, reinforcing feedback at four levels:
1. Start with yourself.
As a leader, you have a tough job and have worked hard … so take some time to name your own successes and wins! It will boost your own outlook and refresh your strength. Ask yourself questions such as: “What accomplishments am I most proud of? Where did I demonstrate great leadership skills over the past year? Where did I experience growth and development of my abilities?” If you aren’t sure how to answer these questions (you might be quite modest about acknowledging your own achievements), ask a colleague whom you trust for their input.
2. Have one-on-one’s with your direct reports.
Hopefully, you give feedback on a regular basis to the people who report to you (if you don’t, now is the time to start). But usually, such meetings contain both reinforcing and redirecting feedback. Employees pretty much expect that they will walk away from a meeting with the boss with some “areas for development” to work on. And that’s okay … but switch things up this time. Just give good news! The power of praise is incalculable.
3. Dialogue with your team.
Your team undoubtedly has had many meetings focused on dealing with issues. This time, call them together with just one item on the agenda: “Where did we do an awesome job this year and what contributed to the great results?” This is a fantastic opportunity for inclusive, unifying, and uplifting team discussion. Plus, as team members name accomplishments and the behaviors that went into the year’s best wins, it naturally reinforces those behaviors to be displayed in the future.
4. Talk to the company as a whole.
If you are on your organization’s leadership team, be sure to communicate to all employees the company’s overall achievements. You might use business metrics to show growth trends or share customer testimonials that emphasize the great service you provide. The fact is, people are often so focused on their own responsibilities that they do not see the big picture. Help them gain that larger perspective and understand how their work contributes to the corporate success story.
Conversations about business issues or areas for personal development happen regularly and naturally throughout the year, as they should. But now, as the year comes to a close, make sure you are giving equal weight to what is going well. Celebrate wins – for you personally, for your direct reports, for your team, and for your company. Reinforcing what was great is the best way to ensure you see it again in the new year!