This is a great, short video by Dan Pink on how to make your feedback better.
What’s the answer? I’ll give it away (but be sure to still watch the video): Tell the person:
I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.
Why is this?
Because high expectations — and believing that people can meet them — motivate performance. High expectations but not believing people can meet them actually decreases and sabotages performance. As do low expectations.
This is incredibly well-backed by research. It’s called the “Pygmalion Effect.” I actually did a presentation on it in college, because I thought the name was funny. We all got a good laugh. I had no idea that it is actually one of the most powerful forces for human motivation that there is.
So don’t miss it — use it in your management and life. Not just because it works, but because it is respectful and the right way to treat people. Belief in people motivates. So does acceptance. If you say “you must earn my trust and acceptance by first performing,” you will diminish performance.
Last thing. For the theological folks (like me): There are echoes of the doctrine of justification by faith alone here. If God were to say to us “you must work hard and then you might earn my approval,” we would be sunk. We would never know when is enough, or if the goal post will keep changing. This uncertainty would make it too risky to engage in the hard work — as it may not pay off. And if it does pay off, we would be able to boast before God — thus putting ourselves at the center.
But because he says “I accept you through faith alone in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10),” we are actually motivated to excel precisely because we know we already belong to him. We know we cannot fail to have his acceptance through faith, and that makes us want to serve him because we are secure.
If we aren’t sure we belong to Christ, we will fear our good works will never be enough, and at the end of the day, that kills motivation.
It is interesting that good management practice echoes good theology.