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Phoenix Forward

Want to motivate employees? Be honest.

Want to motivate employees? Be honest.

We’ve all heard the term “constructive criticism,” but often the criticism isn’t all that constructive. At performance review time, corporate managers are forced to walk a tightrope that often balances discussing the need for improvement with employee motivation. While their intentions may be good, many managers either get too heavy-handed with their criticism (which alienates employees), just drop subtle hints, or (worse) don’t discuss tough issues at all.

“Delivering advice and encouragement is the foundation for keeping employees motivated,” says Kevin Gazzara, DM, a faculty member in the University of Phoenix School of Business, as well as a University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies (SAS) faculty and alum. “It’s important not to sugarcoat advice, but you don’t want to browbeat people either. You have to deliver advice and encouragement on the job within certain rules, so that they are taken in a positive manner.”

Gazzara’s close friend and colleague, William R. Daniels, has devoted his life’s work to improving employer-employee communication and motivational techniques, and has even written a book on the subject, “Breakthrough Performance: Managing for Speed and Flexibility,” which Gazzara has come to rely on in his own work.

Delivering advice and encouragement is the foundation for keeping employees motivated.

“The biggest problem we have as managers is that we tend not to follow the established rules of behavioral science when it comes to keeping our employees motivated,” Gazzara explains. Based on his own experience and Daniels’ work, Gazzara offers five easy tips on how managers can offer better feedback:

  • Beware the dreaded “but.”
    “A lot of people in human resources advise you to give feedback in the form of ‘but sandwiches,’” Gazzara explains. “That’s where you start with something positive, add a ‘but’ statement that is negative, and then soften the blow with something positive. Study after study has shown this does not work, and actually demotivates people. And yet, people do it all the time.”
  • Give positive feedback separately from criticism.
    “My friend Bill Daniels stresses that you should always give positive feedback separately from advice,” says Gazzara. “You should also give it irregularly — Daniels calls it ‘catching people in the act’ of doing something good.”
  • Don’t overuse platitudes like “good job.”
    “If you just say ‘good job’ too often without the proper context, it loses all impact and becomes insincere,” Gazzara explains.
  • Plan ahead for “no surprise” reviews.
    When Gazzara was working as a program manager at Intel Corporation, he had a “no surprises” policy with employees. “Anything discussed in the performance review was something I discussed consistently with the employee throughout the year. My employees appreciated that.”
  • Be specific.
    Whether you’re giving praise or advice, it’s important to be as specific as possible, according to Gazzara. “Be very specific about the change you want to see,” he says. “It’s your responsibility to make sure it’s forward-focused and not misinterpreted.”

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