HR Geeks: Using Losada Lines To Drive High Performing Teams

Today’s popular post of the day on LinkedIn is an uplifting story about executives at LinkedIn thanking staff and staff returning the favor by thanking ‘upward’ – back to the executives.  One point in this post stood out as its something that comes up a lot when we’re discussing employee recognition programs with clients.

What is the right balance of positive praise vs. negative feedback to give an individual in your organization?

The article referred to a mysterious term called the “Losada Ratio“.  We did some digging to find out more…

It turns out, three key researches have done extensive research into the right balance of positive praise and negative or constructive feedback in organizations.  Marcial Losada, Emily Heaphy and Barbara Fredrickson have contributed greatly to the body of research around the positivity ratio around feedback.  Losada’s research found high performing teams have a P/N (Positive to Negative) feedback score of 5.6, medium performing teams are at 1.9 and low performing teams are at 0.36.  What do these numbers mean? Losada’s study indicates that for every one piece of negative feedback that is given to individuals in high performing teams, they receive 6 pieces of positive feedback.

As Mary Poppins famously sang: A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

Looking at the P/N ratios of high performing teams vs. low performing teams, you might naturally ask, is more positive feedback always better? The answer in Losada’s research is resoundingly No.   Fredrickson and Losada published an upper band of proper ratios as well. Once you get beyond a P/N ratio of 11.6, the quality of the relationship will languish, just like it can languish on the lower end of P/N ratios.  Therefore, Losada and Fredrickson state that there is a band of optimal ratios.

Keep positive-to-negative feedback ratios between 2.9 and 11.6 to allow your teams to flourish.

Too much positive praise and you reduce the impact of it; too little praise and you demotivate your employees.

It is worth noting, there is a lot of criticism around the Losada line hypothesis and way in which the research was conducted.  Key criticism implies the lower and upper levels of the range may be somewhat arbitrary and may be different for each individual.

Regardless of the exact P/N ratio that you use in managing your team for high performance, the research is directionally clear.  Make sure you delivery more positive feedback than negative feedback, and that ratio should likely be in the 3-to-1, 5-to-1 or even higher range depending on the individual that is receiving the feedback.