Reflect Tips – How to Give Praise & Positive Feedback – 4 Easy Steps

Transcript of the video is below:

A recent study has found that almost half of UK employees feel like the praise they receive at work is meaningless.

A third also said that the recognition they receive was delivered in an ‘uncomfortable’ way.

Yet being able to deliver positive feedback is so important. 

78% of employees say being recognised motivates them in their job, whilst organisations are 30x more likely to have actively engaged workers when managers focus on employee strengths (source:

Hi there, I’m Sean Butcher, Culture Consultant and Founder of Reflect Consultancy. 

I work predominantly with digital agencies and other ambitious businesses to help them create cultures that bring out the best out of their people. 

In this video I’m going to give you some tips for delivering praise and positive feedback in a meaningful way, all based on a tried and tested framework. 

Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch, largely considered one of the best leaders of his era, said that  

And this is so true. I’m sure all of us sometimes just want to be recognised for doing a good job. Sometimes being told by your boss that you’ve done something really well, and really added value to your organisation, to a clien or one of our colleagues, makes us feel on top of the world. 

But there’s a knack to delivering this kind of feedback in a way which has the biggest positive impact possible.

Get it wrong and you run the risk of your employee joining the 48% that feel like the feedback is just meaningless words.

So, follow the method I’m going to give you today, and hopefully your employee will leave that conversation feeling like your praise was genuine, and therefore be even more driven and motivated to continue doing a great job.  

The framework that we’re going to look at is called ‘COIN’, standing for Context, Observation, Impact and Next Steps. 

This is often thought of as a model for delivering constructive feedback, but you’ll see that it is just as useful for giving praise too. 

The first step is to give Context.

In other words, highlighting the circumstances, event or work that you want to discuss with your employee.

This framing of context is your opportunity to demonstrate that you understand what the employee has been working on or doing, and how that has been helping the organisation, themselves or those around them. 

This part is more focused on the wider situation that was involved, as opposed to the specific reasons why you’re giving them the praise. 

So let’s work through a hypothetical example. As a manager, you might sit down with your employee and start with something like: “I’ve heard that you really helped Michael out with a big project he’s been working on.”

This is framing the context for the discussion. And the fact that you’ve heard about this effort and acknowledged it to your employee demonstrates that you’re taking an interest in the work they are doing, and, in this instance, perhaps how they have gone above and beyond in their usual day-to-day remit. 

The second step is Observation. 

This is where you can really start to focus on the specific behavioural aspects that are pleasing you, and that you want to highlight for praise. 

Often, these are the behaviours within your employee that you want to try and reinforce, and are particular strengths that you want them to continue building on in the future. 

In relation to the context you have framed, the associated observation might be, “I’ve noticed that you’ve taken a really collaborative approach recently – you were particularly instrumental in coordinating the recent link building campaign for our biggest client, and some of your colleagues have mentioned to me that you’ve helped them to become better in their roles.”

The desired behaviour – being collaborative – has been highlighted as the observation, with the reinforcement of both the manager’s comments, but also the passing on of feedback from elsewhere across the team.

Once you deliver this, allow your employee to discuss any thoughts they may have. They may have additional context to add, or to talk about what’s instigated this positive behaviour.

Step three is Impact

Here you’ll want to step into the big picture, focusing on the impact to either your team or the wider organisation. 

In the context of our discussion, saying something like “This sharing of your knowledge and experience is really going to benefit more junior employees, and in turn the whole business as it helps them get up to speed more quickly, feel more confident and deliver a better service to our clients.”

This is really focusing on the value that the employee is bringing to the business through their actions. It’s what turns praise from just being ‘words’ to something meaningful and genuine, as it allows them to understand how what they are doing is benefiting the greater good. 

This can be incredibly powerful when delivered well, so do it from the heart and use this opportunity to really demonstrate how much it means to both you and the business. 

The fourth and final step is Next Steps.

The behaviour is great and everything and you want to praise it, but where do you want your employee to go from here? How do you want them to keep doing what they’re doing, and even step it up a level to further build on the strengths they are demonstrating?

It’s important here to agree on these next steps together. With any employee actions, you want them to be something which they feel completely accountable for.

Going back to our discussion one more time, as a manager you may say: “This is a great example to set for others and really displays our values as a business, particularly to our newer employees. Do you think there’s anything you could do to build on this from here?”

Here you’ve done two things. First you’ve given further big picture context about how the behaviour has demonstrated the company values, and therefore acted as a role model for others to look up to. 

But secondly, by finishing on a question, the manager turns back the ownership to the employee, asking them to consider ‘what more?’, or ‘what else?’ could be done to develop even further.

Delivered well, this means that the employee feels even more motivated to continue demonstrating these behaviours and build them into the value they offer to their organisation. 

So there you have it – the four step COIN framework for giving effective praise and positive feedback:

  • Context – The circumstances, event or work that you want to discuss
  • Observation – The specific behaviours that you want to highlight 
  • Impact – The bigger picture impact or value that these behaviours have resulted in
  • Next steps – How the employee can build further from here

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Have you used COIN? How effective do you think a model like this is? Do you have any different models that you prefer to use when giving praise? 

Thanks for watching – if you found this video helpful please do like it, share it and subscribe to my channel for even more leadership and management tips.

Cheers and see you again soon!

Want the latest people management insights?

Sign up to the Reflections newsletter for news, tips & trends about people management & leadership – direct to your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.