The Pat on the Back

Feedback is a subject that comes up often whenever I talk to executives in tech. It is one of the greatest tools you wield in order to drive your team forward. However, it is also something that leaders in tech are notoriously bad at. When it comes to the way that they provide feedback, there are four types of leaders:

Where do you fit here? And the managers in your organization?

In this article, I will focus on the Downer people, those who only provide negative feedback. First, it is straightforward to test whether one is in this category. Think back on the last couple of weeks and feedback you’ve provided during that time. How many of those times resulted in the other person feeling happy? (Having a hard time remembering any feedback? Subscribe and get the next articles, about the other types of feedback providers)

The Five Disadvantages for Being a Downer

  • When people eventually learn that all the feedback you provide is negative feedback, they will slowly develop immunity. You’ll be the boy who cried “wolf.”
  • I’ve seen at clients that some people who are natively Downers stop providing feedback altogether when they feel animosity.
  • Not providing positive feedback when someone “did good” means you do not reinforce wanted behavior, losing out on fast growth and improvement of the team.
  • Lack of positive feedback hurts morale and increases turnover.
  • As a leader in an organization, you are a role model. Downers create cultures where more and more people act as Downers, deteriorating the overall feedback quality of the entire group.

In my experience, downers can be bifurcated to two sub-groups: those who do this unaware, and those who think they are performing “tough love” management. If you are the former, I hope that by now you’ve used the previous instructions to self-diagnose and have become enlightened.

When it comes to those who reside on the latter, the tough-love proponents, this often encompasses one’s entire Operating System of being a leader. Yes, effectively leading your “buddies” is almost impossible. Yes, you should not be a “care-bear” and tell people when they mess up. However, if you believe the way to enable growth in your team is to put them down and never let them feel like they are sometimes winning, well… you need more help than this article can provide (contact me!).

Now, no matter which of these two groups you fall in, providing positive feedback doesn’t come to you naturally. When advising executives, I suggest some of these fake-it-till-you-make-it approaches. Choose a couple that fit your personality best.

Five Quick Ways to Start Providing Positive Feedback

  • A daily reminder to think back about something that went well today and send the relevant person a short text/Slack message, even merely “good work today, BTW.”
  • A Post-It on your screen in your office (or where you usually have 1:1s and provide feedback) to remind you not to default to just negative feedback.
  • A reminder every couple of months to see if any upcoming milestones have gone well (not necessarily exceeding expectations) and making sure to get some bottles of wine with specially made labels (my personal favorite), t-shirts, or whatever to commemorate the win.
  • As part of my Feedback Visibility model, ensure that you provide positive feedback publicly at least once a week, even if it’s just replying on a public Slack channel or a reply-to-all that says “good job!” with an appropriate GIF.
  • Ask other people in 1:1s what they see around them that has been going on well and, if that’s something you haven’t thought of, make sure to later discuss with the relevant person.

The takeaway here is, if you or one of the managers under you are Downers, to address the issue and remediate it before it starts taking its toll on the team.