Harvard Business Review reveals the bright side to negative feedback

industry_headlinesPositive feedback and recognition clearly amplify key behaviors that drive results. But what happens when you are faced with employee behavior that misses the mark? With talent scarcity on the rise, your organization cannot afford to replace all the underperformers and rehire, retrain, and recover from loss of revenue. Instead, you should help these employees reach their full potential and maximize your investment.

The reality is that top employers today integrate both ongoing positive and negative feedback to get the most out of their talent. Although most organizations have embraced the need for positive employee recognition, it can be easy to avoid circumstances that require a more constructive conversation.

According to a recent article from Harvard Business Review, The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, there is more to improving team performance than giving a pat on the back. The article poses a compelling question, which is a valid concern for most HR professionals: “Which is more effective in improving team performance: using positive feedback to let people know when they’re doing well, or offering constructive comments to help them when they’re off track?”

The answer is revealed by research cited within the article: it’s all about proportions. The research found that “the factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments to negative comments.” The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was over five positive comments to every negative one. The average ratio for the lowest-performing teams was almost three negative comments for every positive one.

How can your organization integrate negative feedback so that it’s effective and motivating? The ratio referenced above is critical.

The bright side to negative feedback is that it ultimately better aligns employees that have veered off track and/or are at risk of missing the mark. Additionally, the occasional negative feedback pushes your employees to never settle for mediocrity. If you hired the best of the best, then it’s important to offer constructive criticism, in an appropriate ratio to positive recognition, in order to communicate the organization’s expectations for performance.

Most importantly, the research revealed that negative feedback helps leaders overcome serious weaknesses. Out of 50,000 leaders observed, the ones who received appropriate negative feedback also improved the most. Negative feedback is an essential part of employee development and growth, and it helps organizations transform average managers into great leaders.

Can you afford to avoid uncomfortable conversations instigated by poor performance?  Employees require positive feedback to stay engaged and drive results, but they also require constructive feedback to grow and improve. Remember the 5 to 1 ratio when offering constructive feedback, and avoid personal attacks to keep a healthy rapport among the organization.

What’s your opinion on the ratio of positive to negative feedback? Do you agree negative feedback is necessary for successful talent management?