As a business owner and leader, you likely give others feedback about adjusting their performance and behavior all the time. But, is it working?

Often, leaders are quick to assume that the reason that change by an employee hasn’t occurred is because of the employee. Next time you yourself rush to this conclusion, however, step back and self reflect on your actions and how they may be impacting the lack of change.

How often do you give praise and recognition, vs. developmental feedback?

Research by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada that looked at 60 leadership teams found that the most “effective” teams (measured by financial performance, 360-degree feedback assessments and customer-satisfaction ratings) received an average ratio of 5.6 positive to negative comments.

This means that teams received nearly six positive comments for every one negative comment. The lowest-performing teams received almost three negative comments for every positive one, with a ratio of .36. Although this study focused on teams, it would seem that the effect it found would be similar for individual performance, as well.

So, where do you fall when it comes to your feedback ratio? If you’re like most leaders, you probably haven’t asked yourself this question, which means you have no data to measure the ratio. I suggest that you start with one of your high performers who has the potential to take on a larger role in your organization. Start keeping track of how often you give this person praise and recognition, versus feedback on his or her challenges and struggles.

And during this process, ask yourself these questions:

  1. When it comes to providing developmental feedback, how effectively are you delivering it? 


  • Are you seeing agreement by the employee?
  • Before concluding the feedback, do you ask this person to clarify what he or she just heard?
  • Do you get the employee to reflect on the impact his or her performance has on you, the team and your organization?
  1. When discussing a needed adjustment, how close in time after the actual behavior or action you observed do you have the conversation?


  • Do you give consideration to the employee’s emotions and mood?
  • Do you give the feedback in private?

Starting your self-assessment off by focusing on a high performer will allow you to move to the ratio of 5.6 positive comments to one negative comment more quickly than if you start with an employee who has performance problems. Once you have mastered the process with your rising star, then move on to the more challenging employees.

Remember to practice consistent praise and recognition, and when performance feedback is needed, to use this simple formula: Make it timely and get the employee to understand the impact. Then have this person explore options to repair his or her performance and commit to a course of action within a specific time frame.