This is a guest post from Sean Conrad:

When we’re trying to improve our own performance, or as managers, trying to coach our employees to improve their performance, it’s common to focus on the things that need to change, or ‘the negatives’. We do this regularly in performance appraisals: we rate an employee’s performance, identify challenges or areas of weakness and put development plans in place to address them.


But sometimes, when we want to encourage growth and development, it can be powerful to focus on the positives. Here’s one way you can do that.

We’re often taught to apply “root cause analysis” techniques to address performance deficiencies. So for example, in a work situation, we ask ourselves or our employees questions like:

  • What did you do wrong?
  • What circumstances led to or contributed to your difficulty?
  • What internal and external factors were at play?
  • How can you change the way you behave next time?
  • What knowledge/skills/abilities do you need to acquire or perfect to perform better next time?
  • Etc.


The goal is to gain a better understanding of why you or your employee struggle or fail, and then takes steps to improve performance.

You can apply these same techniques to identify the root causes of success. So for example, in a work situation where you are coaching an employee, you could ask questions like:

  • What kinds of projects or people bring out the best in you?
  • What work are you most passionate about?
  • What kinds of management or supervisory support help you excel?
  • What are the “conditions” that support your success?


Instead of identifying the things that cause us to fail, we identify the things that cause us to succeed. If there are factors that have contributed to high performance and success in the past, they’ll likely continue to do so in the future. Once you’ve identified these root causes of high performance, you can work to try to replicate them as much as possible. You might also consider engaging in development to help further develop a strong skill or gain more knowledge in an area of interest.

Sometimes, focusing on the positives and successes in our lives can lead us to better understand how to improve and succeed in other areas. By including positive feedback as part of our regular coaching and discussions on performance, we give our employees a more balanced perspective and encourage desired behaviors and actions. And in our own lives, we can learn to apply the lessons and conditions of our success just as easily as we apply the lessons from our failures. And the bonus is, we feel better about ourselves.

As a Certified Human Capital Strategist and former learning specialist, Sean Conrad knows how effective coaching and feedback can support higher performance. He works for Halogen Software, a leading provider of performance management software.

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Paul Bailey

Paul is a highly experienced Business Coach, Mentor and Personal Development Specialist. He works with people to enhance business and personal performance through a process of supported self-awareness and self- development. Paul is the Co-Author of the book 80 Tips.

  • Lisa Abrams says:

    Sean, I really enjoyed your post. As a sensitive individual I do much better with positive rather than negative comments. My boss is great about stating the positive and doesn’t take a ‘look what you did” approach, rather helps to spin it in a more positive light with constructive comments. Thanks for validating this type of feedback.

    • Sean Conrad says:

      Thanks Lisa!

      Staying positive and looking ahead seems to be the best approach. Even when behaviour has to change, a good manager can be more effective by positioning that change positively. Further, developing based on strengths, interest, and passion leads to more motivation and engagement from employees – and better performance!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Tyra says:

    Based on my experience, It affects the employees on how a manager handles them especially when it comes to their productivity. Building them positive views on the problem will motivate them to do well next time. The only problem I think is that managers sometimes doesn’t give recognition to employees’ great effort and think everyone aren’t doing well which gives a negative effect on them.

    • Sean Conrad says:

      Well said Tyra, I agree that recognition is a key part of keeping employees – especially high performers – engaged and motivated. I see it as something that can be discussed during a performance review, but hopefully it’s just a review of recognition that was done in a timely manner throughout the year.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

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