HR Roundtable: Getting a Fix on Better Recognition and Feedback

After our month’s hiatus in August, the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati came back strong in September to discuss various issues of recognition and feedback (or lack thereof) in the workplace.

The attendees were excited because they really were eager to reconvene and have something to chew on. To sate the masses, Steve gave the group the following three questions to tackle:

  1. Why do we struggle giving positive feedback to others?
  2. What systems support negative feedback?
  3. How can we be constructive and recognize people?

The eagerness of everyone was palpable and they jumped straight in to share their thoughts on these questions. The answers they had to share were amazing!

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Why do we struggle giving positive feedback?

  • Fear — This gets its own bullet because many of the answers that started to pour out were, “We’re afraid to …” It’s quite telling that fear is such a powerful force on what could be an incredibly powerful positive. To think that we would be reluctant to give positive feedback because fear holds us back shows that too many HR efforts remain arm length systems (which is covered later). Thankfully, one attendee gave a positive way to address fear in an acronym. Which, we all know, is how to get to the heart of an HR person! She said that she learned to look fear this way: Face Everything And Respond – that’s solid!
  • It raises expectations too much — Isn’t this great? If I tell you positive things, you might expect to get that again, or on a regular basis. So, I’ll avoid giving you feedback in the first place. Staggering!
  • People don’t know how to do it well — This was an overwhelming response that people latched onto because it’s true. Organizations, and especially HR, haven’t taught people or modeled how to give feedback internally. We tend to send people away to seminars, get them all geeked up and then don’t follow through with what they’ve learned back in the workplace.
  • People aren’t sincere — Yikes! Another unfortunate truth in many workplaces. This doesn’t mean there aren’t sincere people, but it does reflect the sentiment that the intent, or the delivery, of feedback may not be sincere.
  • Too busy to make the time to do it — This just means that people choose not to focus on feedback, or see that it adds value. And (editor’s note) it’s a cop out. We are generally more comfortable with systems than people because systems don’t think or object. This focus needs to be recalibrated
  • If I’m too positive – then employees will slack off — What does this say about what we think about employees? I think it’s EXTREMELY telling. The funny thing that we all forget in this conversation is …WE are employees too!
  • We model the behavior we see — If others aren’t going to give feedback, then neither am I. Wow! Think about that for a bit. Unfortunately, this is more of a cultural norm than you may admit.

What systems support negative feedback?

  • Compensation – How about that for a first answer? There is data all over the place about how compensation systems can be demotivators. Make sure you’re looking at yours.
  • Poor goal setting and a lack of focus — Wherever there is a lack of clarity, people will make up answers and methods because they want to contribute. If they get thumped for that, it only turns sour.
  • Assumed culture — Every organization has assumed culture. They are the things people all “know” but don’t tell everyone. When people are in the know, it gets uncomfortable.
  • Artificial forced ranking — There’s an entire HR Roundtable in this response. The idea that we must, in order to keep peace and control, rank people formally in order to place and assess team members is demotivating. One thing to note – people do this whether there’s a formal system or not. It’s human nature. The question is how you address it in your company.
  • CYA — I don’t have to spell out these initials for you. Whether this is a legal CYA approach or a political, internal CYA approach, it only detracts from things. This shows a lack of forward thinking. It only supports a reactionary approach and culture.
  • HR — (Steve added this one). It’s the gorilla in the room. Oddly, even at an HR Roundtable, people wouldn’t voice it. The majority of HR systems are built on negatives. Systems ranging from performance reviews to policies look at things from the “what you’re NOT doing” perspective more often than not.

How can we be constructive and recognize people?

  • Be consistent — Remember: consistent doesn’t mean fair. It means “be consistent.” If you truly build feedback into your culture as a company, and especially through HR, you’ll see incredible results!
  • Intentionally communicate — Being proactive takes discipline and effort. It probably isn’t possible to do this all the time, but the more you do it, the more you will absolutely differentiate yourself from others. Employees will respond to this approach and perform.
  • Develop a kudos system — There is no silver bullet to this. HR pros have to assess, evaluate and see what works at their company. More likely than not, it won’t transfer to another company. The main point is look at having a system where kudos are happening on a regular, consistent basis. This won’t happen “organically.” Make it part of your fabric.
  • Be timely — Feedback on a great job or accomplishment weeks after it happened is not taken well. And, it shouldn’t be. Get to people as soon as you can when great things happen. This is not for gigantic movements and successes. You can see great things everyday – if you’re looking for them
  • Train people how to be great at recognition and feedback — We spend hours on compliance and customer service and skill building, but don’t treat this as a skill. It is one and it needs direct attention and effort just as other critical areas of a company’s culture.
  • Make the time — If any company EVER says that employees are their “most important asset” but don’t take the time to give recognition and feedback, then they’re not following what they profess. People are important; tell them! Make the time to do this EVERY day. It will make a difference for them — and for YOU.

It was great to get back into the swing of the HR Roundtable! Make sure to join us in October when we take a look at how we handle “Information and Resources in a world that doesn’t allow us time to breathe.”

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.



2 Comments on “HR Roundtable: Getting a Fix on Better Recognition and Feedback

  1. These are some great points Steve – I think especially ‘Be consistent’.  If you create a repeatable, consistent process – feedback becomes the norm.  Rather than being met with a negative or defensive response, it will be accepted as the norm and will have the constructive, positive effect intended.

  2. If fear is a big problem, then there must be an awkward system involved. There’s nothing scary about telling your child “well done!” or telling your team mate “great shot!”  It’s not alarming to say “Thanks, I needed that!” to someone who helped you. Recognition is natural. If business recognition is not, there’s something wrong with the model developed to deliver it.

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