plus minusI find that many businesspeople are frustrated with the complexity of developing great employees. They’d love to find a quick and easy solution to giving each person exactly what he or she needs.

Here’s something that might be quite helpful.

In 2011, the Journal of Consumer Research published a study titled, “Tell me what I did wrong: Experts seek and respond to negative feedback,” by Stacey R. Finkelstein and Ayelet Fishbach.

This research concluded that the most useful form of feedback directly relates to where the person is on their own learning curve. A novice benefits more from positive and supportive feedback, while an expert benefits from negative and critical feedback.

No doubt you can relate this directly to your own experience.

When I was learning how to swim, it was important for my parents to be encouraging and supportive when I struggled to stay afloat. Despite all my mistakes, they reinforced the few things I was doing right. As I gained expertise over the years, coaches would focus more on refining my technique by pointing out what I was doing wrong. They encouraged my larger goals, of course, but precisely pointed out errors that were holding me back.

This is a powerful principle for anybody who is developing employees.

When a new worker is struggling to understand the basics, you will help the most by being generous with your encouragement and tolerance of his errors. As he becomes more proficient and self-managing, you’ll increase your emphasis on critical assessment of the work. You’ll balance challenging him with larger objectives with being specific about errors that he can fix. When he approaches being a master, he’ll get the most value from your precise assessment of barriers that are holding him back from being at the top of his game. At that point, his motivation to excel has been internalized.

This is a gradual switchover, and it’s sensitive to what the individual needs. Despite that, it’s a powerful principle that will help you to develop great employees, helping everyone to become top contributors to your business.

Each person is a novice at some things, and expert at others. No doubt you yourself have some skills which you’ve been honing your entire life, and others where you feel very much the learner.

It’s not just about the hard skills, either. Let’s say you take on a new employee who is really quite an experienced and capable accountant. It’s quite likely that she may struggle with developing a wide range of fruitful relationships, adapting to a new management style and learning the unique quirks of your business. This is a natural learning curve. Your best management style with her might be gentle and encouraging in the soft skills, while simultaneously challenging and precise with her technical expertise.

I’d recommend that you be quite open with her about why you’re doing this. When you explain your thinking, you might just get some excellent feedback which will help you fine-tune your approach to what she needs. After all, your real goal is to help her to be as effective as possible, so knowing what she needs will direct you to do just that.

As you think about your current employees, inventory the different challenges that each of them face, and what their level of expertise is in each area. Then shift your feedback accordingly.

This report can be found at

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is

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