Research shows that ‘appreciation for a job well done’ consistently ranks highly as a motivator in employee surveys. Yet research also shows that most people don’t feel they get enough praise. So what’s going on? Putting aside the fact that it’s likely that some of our survey participants feel they should be praised for turning up every morning, my view is that managers are sometimes reluctant to give praise because they’ve had experiences of being praised themselves in ways that, frankly, haven’t motivated them at all. And, of course, they’re not over keen on having the same effect on their staff. It’s actually quite easy to deliver praise badly – praise that is seen as patronising or manipulative by the recipient. But done well, its dynamite. Here are five ways to do it well
1. Prepare the praise
It’s interesting that many of the managers I know will spend literally hours preparing to give criticism, but only a matter of minutes (if at all) preparing to give praise. The result? A passing comment (literally) on the lines of ‘nice job Doug, keep it up’ Say what? Which job? The whole job? Keep what up? Not only is this type of praise confusing but, by and large, it’s not wildly motivating. Top tip – spend as much time preparing to give praise as you would to give criticism
2. Be Specific
Describe exactly what you are praising and why. Try the following method:
E.g. When I showed the client the research you had done on their business she said she was really impressed by the insights you had provided. The result is she wants us to make a proposal for a further piece of business. That’s a really good outcome for us so thank you and well done
3. Show genuine interest
Ask questions to better understand what the staff member did, for example, what preparation they did for a successful presentation, how they managed to design such effective visual aids. Describe how you feel about what they’ve done e.g. pleased, impressed, excited (the hug and kiss might be slightly over doing it)
4. Let the praise stand alone
Don’t be tempted to mix the praise with criticism e.g. That was a great presentation. If only your written work was as good. Deal with the written work issue at a different time –unless, of course, you’re a fan of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.
5. Do it quickly and time it well
Give your praise as soon after the event as possible – it has far more impact. Be careful not to give the praise at a time when it will appear conditional or a ‘softening up’ process e.g. just before you delegate a task or ask for the person to work late
Public or Private?
There’s an old saying ‘praise in public, criticise in private’. Though I wholeheartedly agree with the latter I’m not totally convinced by the former. Of course the principle is sound. We want other staff to hear the praise and understand what we are praising because we hope that they will want to emulate those behaviours or achievements. But not everyone is comfortable being singled out in this way and some people find accepting praise in front of their colleagues embarrassing. My advice would be to deliver the praise in private. You can then ask the staff member if they are happy for you to share the praise with their colleagues – say in the next team meeting – and take it from there
And a few final tips
If the performance you are praising is exceptional, you will probably want to bring this to the attention of your boss and possibly higher. If you have a reward system which is credible you may want to utilise this. In any event, it’s a good idea to follow up your conversation with the staff member in writing (a note will do) and to copy that note to your performance files
Joan Henshaw is the author and presenter of the video management training series ‘The 10 Minute Management Toolkit’ – the flexible, cost effective and time effective way to help managers, team leaders and supervisors learn how to motivate their staff to high performance. You can watch free videos at https://www.10mmt.com/watch-videos/
Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.
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