Pop quiz:  “I like how you did that!” – Positive feedback or not?

Textbook says … no.

I know, I know, it sounds positive.  Affirming.

A client recently started a new job.  Her new boss created the position and it requires expertise that the boss does not have.  Naturally, the boss is now micromanaging the situation and insisting that even minor things be done her way.  When the client does it the boss’s way (despite it usually being inefficient and unnecessary) the boss responds with, “I like how you did that!”

That statement only works when it’s followed by a concrete reason.

“I like how you did that because I’m threatened by not being in control of all the details and since you did it my way I feel more comfortable.”  Well, this is truthful but most won’t be that forthcoming.

“I like how you did that because HR told me I need to say something nice to my employees sometimes.”  Also truthful and equally unhelpful.

“I like how you did that because it’s a simple and helpful tracking system so we can all see what’s happening on the project.”  Better.

“I appreciate the system you produced.  You designed it so it’s easy to access and use, it has timely and complete data, and the executive team was able to answer their own questions and make the decision we needed. Well done.” Best!

Performance feedback isn’t a game.  It doesn’t require managers to be experts in psychology, generational differences, or even in the gory details of the work itself.  It only requires that managers know what good results look like and to be able to give a concrete example.

Feedback tells employees if they are on the right – or wrong – track in performance.  It’s one of a manager’s most important jobs.

Are your managers willing to do that as well as they do their own hands-on technical work?