One of your most important duties as an engineering manager is to give feedback to your software developers.

Giving feedback fosters continuous improvement, promotes open communication, and empowers your software developers to grow both personally and professionally, ultimately leading to increased productivity and a more successful team dynamic.

It may surprise you to learn that some senior tech leaders and engineering managers struggle with providing positive feedback, just as much as they do with giving negative feedback.

That’s because giving feedback requires you to possess a good level of communication and empathy. You need to invest a bit of time into planning and collaboration for it to be effective, too.

You don’t want to pull the stunt that I did when I once gave feedback to somebody, and she left the room crying. Even though I wanted to praise her, I forced her into a discussion about her weaknesses. I completely overlooked her accomplishments because I thought she knew that I admired her a lot.

I will never forget that day; it was one of those moments that taught me how important it is to practice boss ceremonies.

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What Is Positive Feedback in Software Development?

Positive feedback is a powerful tool for recognizing and reinforcing best practices in software development. It involves providing specific, sincere, and timely praise or recognition to your developers for a job well done.

What Are the Benefits of Positive Feedback?

Positive feedback can greatly improve your developers’ morale, motivation, and job satisfaction, while also promoting a company culture of excellence and continuous improvement.

By acknowledging and celebrating the accomplishments of your developers, positive feedback can help build trust, strengthen relationships, and improve overall performance and productivity. Incorporating positive feedback into your management style can lead to happier, more engaged, and more successful dev teams.

How To Give Positive Feedback?

Positive feedback is an important tool in the arsenal of effective dev team management, but knowing how to give it is the trick.

You need to strike a balance between being honest and being supportive, and it's crucial to provide specific examples that can help your developers understand exactly what they're doing well.

To ensure that your positive feedback has the greatest impact, here are some tips to follow.

Tip #1: Focus on the specific behavior (not the character or ability)

It's important to pinpoint the positive behavior that you want to bring to your developer’s attention. This could be anything from recognizing the completion of an urgent code review or that your developer took the initiative on quickly debugging a feature.

For example, instead of saying "you're a great programmer," you might say, "I was really impressed by the way you refactored the code in the authentication feature. Your attention to detail and ability to simplify complex logic made the code much more maintainable."

Keywords: behavior, specific feedback, programming skills

Tip #2: Be real about it

There’s nothing worse than getting a pat on the head - I’m being metaphorical here - for something that cost you a lot of time and effort.

So, for positive feedback to really be understood by your developer, it should match the effort, be genuine, and come from a place of compassion. Be specific and use examples that demonstrate your appreciation for your developer's work.

Keywords: sincerity, authenticity, specific examples  

Tip #3: Use nonverbal cues

Using nonverbal cues when giving positive feedback is important because it can enhance the impact and sincerity of your message, making your developer feel valued and motivated. Nonverbal cues such as smiling, maintaining eye contact, and using an enthusiastic tone can communicate positivity and reinforce the importance of the feedback being given.

Keywords: nonverbal communication, body language, tone of voice

Tip #4: Timing is everything

Even though you want to address the kudos in person right away, don’t do it at the water cooler or just before leaving the elevator - share the positive feedback by asking your developer for five minutes of their time in a quiet place. For remote working arrangements, you might want to make a quick call.

Also, be sure to be comfortable and not stressed when giving feedback, that way the feedback will have the most positive impact.

If you wait until your next performance performance review, the feedback may be lost. By doing it in the moment, your developer will notice that you’ve been noticing him or her. This helps reinforce positive behavior and encourages your developer to continue performing at a high level.

Keywords: timely feedback, positive reinforcement      

Tip #5: Encourage growth, don’t let the feedback go to waste!

When giving feedback, it's important to focus on growth and development. So don’t let your feedback be quickly buried and forgotten.

Instead of simply praising the accomplishment, try to provide feedback that challenges your developer and continues supporting this kind of behavior. Maybe help your developer upskill? In cases where this is not feasible, offering advice or recommendations can still be important.

Here’s a formula I recommend using:

Behavior you wish to praise + “Going forward, I’d like to see you…” + [insert next challenge for developer].

For example, you might say, "I was really impressed by the way you handled that difficult bug. Going forward, I'd like to see you take on more complex challenges and continue to grow your skills."

Keywords: growth mindset, skill development, constructive feedback

Tip #6: Connect it to the bigger picture

When providing feedback, make sure that it ties into the companies values and what the overall objectives are.

Emphasize that it’s the sum of all these smaller actions that lead to company-wide success. That way your developers become more motivated to continue playing their part.

Tip #7: Be an example, be open to feedback yourself

While engineering managers are often in the position of providing feedback to their developers, it's also important for them to be open to receiving feedback themselves.

By creating an environment where open and honest feedback is encouraged, engineering managers can gain valuable insights into their own strengths and weaknesses.

Additionally, by modeling the behavior they expect from their developers, engineering managers can foster a culture of continuous improvement, leading to better communication, increased collaboration, and ultimately, a more productive and successful dev team.

20 Specific Examples of Engineering Managers Giving Positive Feedback to Their Developers:

  • Your code is clean, efficient, and easy to understand.
  • You did an excellent job identifying and solving that bug.
  • Your creativity and problem-solving skills are impressive.
  • Your contributions to this project have been invaluable.
  • Your attention to detail is outstanding.
  • Your willingness to take on challenging tasks is admirable.
  • You have a great understanding of our product and its users.
  • Your leadership on this project has been exceptional.
  • Your code reviews are always thorough and helpful, and done quickly.
  • Your ability to work well with the other developers is impressive.
  • Your dedication and hard work are greatly appreciated.
  • Your work consistently meets or exceeds our quality standards.
  • You have a talent for simplifying complex problems.
  • You have a great attitude and positive energy.
  • Your ability to work independently and meet deadlines is impressive.
  • Your ideas and suggestions are always insightful and valuable.
  • Your work has a great impact on the success of our product.
  • You have great communication skills and provide clear explanations.
  • Your work ethic is exemplary.
  • Your attention to user experience and user interface is impressive.
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