One of the many lessons I have learned about encouraging performance is this: if you are serious about getting better results, you must deliver feedback on performance quickly, honestly, and consistently. Nobody likes to live in the gray area. People will not grow when they live in gray.
As a leader, our job is to observe, analyze, and deliver fast feedback. Spending time with the troops in the trenches and observing and listening to them will prepare you for your feedback delivery.
Always be prepared and ready to give positive reinforcement. Give it quickly — that way it maintains its punch. Don’t worry about giving too much positive reinforcement. I’ve never heard someone tell their leader, “Hey Boss, you reinforce me too much.” We must take care in reinforcing the right behaviors. People must deserve it, otherwise it is not that meaningful.
And, on the other side of the coin, address negative behaviors immediately. If someone isn’t performing and you wait to confront it, aren’t you in affect reinforcing the behavior?
The bottom line is this: what gets reinforced, gets repeated.