People Power: Performance Feedback

People Do Respond to Positive Feedback

by Robert Milligan

Scientific and technological processes in dairy in the last 50 years have helped lead to outstanding production. But as we have repeatedly discussed, achieving superb dairy performance requires excellence in both technical and people processes.

One way to ensure technical processes lead to superb performance is through careful process monitoring. When it comes to workforce performance, however, careful monitoring is only a partial answer, because people are different from cows and crops:

1) They have emotions and make judgments based on motivation.

2) They can learn, think and make decisions.

3) They can talk and ask questions.

People not only use information from crop and animal monitoring to make decisions, but also emotions, thinking and speaking to enhance current and future performance.

To maximize their own performance, workers must: a) know the level of their current performance; and b) understand what they must do to improve performance. That requires accurate and precise performance feedback.

Providing feedback requires leaders and supervisors to be proactive – just as they are in monitoring crop and livestock performance – and involves two steps:

1) Just as with crops and livestock, they must observe and monitor workforce performance.

2) Using people attributes – emotions, thinking and speaking – they must communicate workforce assessments and work with each person to improve performance.

The challenge, of course, is to effectively communicate the assessment. This requires three types of performance feedback.

This month, we’ll discuss the effective use of positive feedback. Next month, we’ll discuss two other types of feedback when performance does not meet expectations.

To start, recall how many times you have provided positive feedback in the last 24 hours. When I ask this question in workshops, few respond to the “5 or more” choice. In fact, Gallup Foundation research found less than one in three employees receives positive feedback from their supervisor in a week.

Each of us understands the value of positive feedback. Why, then, do we provide so little? I believe there are two legitimate and solvable reasons:

•  Livestock and crops have little or no response to positive feedback, so most of you were trained to be outstanding livestock and  crop problem solvers. It is only natural to take a similar approach to workforce productivity.

• Most adults do not show their true emotional response when provided positive feedback. The apparent neutral or even negative immediate response discourages us from providing additional positive feedback.

I’ll address the second issue first. As I noted,  few workshop participants indicate they have provided positive feedback “5 or more” times in the last 24 hours. Of those who did, most said they provided the feedback to children.

Why? I believe it is because children have not yet “learned” to be ashamed or reticent about responding to positive feedback with true emotional response.

Research and my experience from coaching shows adults respond just as positively as children to positive feedback; they just do not show it. Managers making an effort to increase  positive feedback often tell me they are not certain their employees appreciated the positive feedback until they heard from the employees’ spouses.

With so little visible response, why then, should a manager provide positive feedback?

• Positive feedback is motivating. “Feelings of personal accomplishment” and “recognition for achievement” are two of Herzberg’s motivators.

• Positive feedback focuses the recipient on success. To be effective in improving performance, feedback must be specific, timely and accurate.

• Positive feedback builds confidence. Since many workforce members are young – and often insecure – this advantage is powerful.

• Excellent, specific positive feedback engages the employee in their performance.

Three-step process

The following three-step process provides a level of comfort to the manager providing the feedback, and reduces the reticence of the workforce member receiving the feedback:

Step 1: Observe good behavior.

Step 2: Compliment the employee on the positive behavior or performance you desire.

Step 3: State the specific current behavior or performance you are complimenting.

For example:

Step 1: You have been stressing the importance of attention to detail regarding udder health and milk quality. You observe an example of attention to detail by Jack.

Step 2: You thank Jack for following through on your emphasis on attention to detail.

Step 3: You cite the specific example – proper freestall maintenance – where Jack has emphasized that attention to detail.

These three steps provide specific feedback,  reinforces the behavior or performance you desire, and clearly identifies the action that is being rewarded.

I challenge you to provide high-quality,  positive feedback at least once a day for the next 21 days. Use the three step process to enhance the quality of the feedback.

Then, I’d like to hear from you on your positive feedback experiences. Contact me via phone: 651-647-0495; or e-mail: to share your story.


Robert Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC, can be reached via phone: 651-647-0495; e-mail:, or website: