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Redefining performance metrics and rewards is a critical part of aligning work to future value. Aligning executive plans to transformation goals and long-term incentives can help to ensure a focus on future success, while innovation awards or modern recognition programs can incentivize change for non-executives. In fact, offering more diverse rewards and compensation is this year's number one rewards priority. To truly align the business, investments in rewards should reflect a company’s strategic focus, and this could mean a step away from market norms in pivotal areas.

Engaging in more frequent performance conversations is becoming the new norm in the modern workplace. Employees need continuous feedback to thrive in the rapidly evolving business landscape. According to, 65% of workers say they’d like to receive more feedback than they currently receive. However, even positive performance reviews can be uncomfortable and challenging for most leaders and employees. In fact, feedback caused performance to decline in 38% of cases. How can managers engage in more constant communication with their team members and deliver effective feedback that positively impacts performance, is honest, and motivating?

A Personalized Approach

We’ve all heard of the sandwich method. Deliver any negative feedback between two positive statements in hopes that the employee feels motivated by the recognition and will be more motivated and confident to tackle the areas of improvement in between. On the one hand, at large, research says to use this, but we know personalities are complex and some may not appreciate this method. On an individual level, we need different things to motivate us.

So How do we Handle These Conflicting Viewpoints?

The truth is, your approach to communicating feedback should depend on the individual's preference for receiving feedback. Just like we are all motivated by different tasks, interests, and situations, we also have unique preferences and biases toward receiving feedback. Some people are driven by candid, direct feedback, feeling that any positive “fluff” is dishonest and distracting at best. These individuals will not hear the positive statements managers use to cushion criticism. On the other end of the spectrum, some individuals will lose all motivation if they are not praised equally to the amount or far more than, they are criticized. If left with only negative feedback, these employees will feel dejected, disengaged, and demotivated. While it is important for team members to adapt to their environment and learn to take feedback, the manager is ultimately responsible for the team’s productivity. Demotivated employees do not perform to their highest potential. Understanding your team members’ individual preferences is in your best interest if you want them to thrive.

Before we dive into how we go about understanding the different needs of your team, let’s discuss the skills and mindset you need to handle these conversations.

The Secret Sauce to Feedback

The Secret Sauce? No one method can motivate the varying spectrum of Needs of the workforce. The key lies in making reviews as individualized and personal as possible. According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employees are most fearful of:

  • Not knowing where they stand
  • Automation
  • Being too digitally connected

This theme will only continue as AI becomes more prevalent throughout the workforce. Deloitte research shows that employees need to feel a sense of belonging, trust, and relationship to combat this fear and drive productivity. Achieving this takes two skills:

Emotional Intelligence:

Recognizing and respecting differences in your talent’s behaviors and preferences.


The ability to adapt your behavior, while staying genuine, to meet the needs of your employees. If this sounds like an oxymoron, we’ve got an easy way to sort it out. Adaptability is critical in one-on-one conversations to provide comfortable, tailored communications. Consistency is key on more significant things like values, the freedom given to employees, and expectations for individuals. Keeping these large factors aligned across an organization ensures trust.

Now we can dive into understanding how to know what feedback methods will work for your team members.

Meeting Talent Where They’re Comfortable

While leaders can always ask employees what they prefer in terms of feedback style, it takes a strong relationship for employees to feel comfortable opening up to management. Even if your employees do experience enough trust to share, they might not always have full awareness of what they prefer or be able to communicate their preferences effectively. A great way to open conversations about personality without judgment or fear is through a personality assessment. Personality assessment data taps into individual needs, or preferences, that are unseen. Learning to recognize preferences for behaviors like candid communication, time to process information, or wanting room to discuss emotions are game-changers when preparing for serious conversations. We know there is a lot of hesitation when it comes to using assessments. People might feel pressure to answer “the right way.” That’s why it is key to ensure your assessment leans on positive psychology, where all traits are equally positive, and all have possible pitfalls, putting everyone on the same playing field. 

Applying Positive Psychology

According to Harvard Business Review, focusing people on their shortcomings doesn’t enable learning—it impairs it. While not everyone appreciates sugar-coated feedback, Forbes reminds us that genuine appreciation is always welcomed in performance reviews or everyday conversations. The same Harvard Business Review article previously mentioned recounts how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach, Tom Landry turned around his struggling team. While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed through footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something easily, naturally, and effectively. Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not. It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently. From now on, he told each team member, “we only replay your winning plays.”

The Birkman Method leans on positive psychology to open discussions about motivation, preference, strengths, and areas to improve on. We understand that there truly is no perfect personality type while recognizing that we all have areas we are stronger in. Understanding your talent’s natural abilities will help you recognize where they thrive in the work environment. Studies show that encouraging these positive behaviors as they happen is a sure way to motivate employees and help you to see where different individuals come forward as a leader. Not only will this give you more to say when discussing performance, but it will also allow you to better coach your employees on a personalized level. If positive feedback is sprinkled into your daily conversations, your talent will feel more certain of how they are performing, and they will be more prepared for the bigger performance conversations.

This also applies to corrective feedback. Understanding where improvements can be made will help your employees course-correct when it truly matters, not months later in their performance review. Having frequent conversations allows your employees to grasp their overall performance and makes performance reviews much less challenging, uncertain, and daunting.

Managing Negative Feedback Conversations

All of this might sound simple when we are dealing with all-star employees, but what about the employees who are more difficult to coach? How do you avoid the negativity bias from producing a reverse impact, creating an even more unproductive behavior from this employee? By balancing the negatives and refocusing energy towards what's right, personal success can become a lot easier to achieve and help develop resilience when employees face issues of stress or disappointment. By giving people the tools and information to build more resilience, employers can benefit from higher productivity. On the other hand, when managers neglect to engage employees in positive, non-judgemental ways, it creates tension and reduces trust - a recipe for disaster. There must be a balance of feedback when delivering constructive feedback.

According to, conventional wisdom shows that primacy and recency effects are powerful: we often remember what happens first and last in a conversation, glossing over the middle. This means when we have constructive feedback to offer and change is necessary, we must call those actions out without sugar coating or glossing over them (read: skip using the sandwich method). On the other hand, we’ve discussed how meaningful positive, reassuring feedback is to employee satisfaction, motivation, and improvement. Focusing on what your employee does well allows you to base your future goals and plans for that individual in their strengths.

Fast Company offers sound advice to depersonalize your critiques to an employee by taking the word “you” out of statements and making improvements a group effort. Rather than “you have a lot of typos in your emails. Do better next time,” try, “these emails have a lot of typos, let’s talk about how we can avoid that next time.” You are still calling out the item that needs improvement without assigning blame that can feel much more personal. This clearly explains what needs improvement without dancing around the subject or alienating employees. This shift in approach works the focus is on helping your team improve and shows that you are willing to collaborate and shoulder the work it will take to improve. This method is much more effective than sandwiching your criticism between two positive statements. It ensures your feedback is heard and guides your employee toward a collaborative solution.

Whether your employee is effective or not, your talent is still the key to your organization’s success. As a manager, it is essential to take every step possible to produce an engaging environment that brings out the productive behaviors in your employees. Lean on positive psychology and focus your conversation on the positive elements an employee brings to a team every time it's possible. 

How we Help

The future is all about cross-function, agile teams. Personality assessment data is critical to understanding the preferences and work styles of team members, as well as delivering effective feedback. Part of being agile is timely feedback that reaches individuals in a way that will encourage improvement. Your company depends on leaders who understand the needs of their employees and work to deliver messages that can ensure growth and development for tomorrow’s leaders.

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