Leadership / 07.23.19
How to Give Praise in the Workplace
Can you believe most of us are giving praise in the workplace all wrong? We think we are being motivating and inspiring, but it’s very likely we are causing more harm than good.
How we give praise either encourages the best from our team or has negative impact on self-esteem, not to mention short- and long-term productivity and the company’s bottom line. How we give praise to employees can even impact how they engage with customers and suppliers.
Most of us are pretty good at saying statements like, “Good job,” “Perfect” or “Thank you” when someone achieves or exceeds our expectations. Unfortunately, unclear praise like I’ve shared in these three examples is exactly what might be causing long-term motivation, self-esteem and productivity challenges.
Let’s consider a situation where we are leaving a meeting at work. As we pass the meeting chair, we say something like, “Great meeting.” By saying this we think we are being a great boss or co-worker. We are not. We are being far too vague. What did the meeting chair do that made the meeting great? Did they keep the meeting on time or give everyone a voice? Perhaps they led a very productive brainstorming exercise, or they kept an attention-grabbing associate reigned in? You see, because we weren’t specific, we are the only ones who really know what we meant.
Employees and co-workers can’t repeat the behaviour if we don’t tell them exactly what they did that impressed us. Worse yet, they may mistakenly think we are praising them for something that isn’t on our radar. Meanwhile, the behavior we did mean to incentivize gets overlooked and never seen again, which is frustrating for us as we start wondering why our feedback and praise is being ignored. This is doubly important in the workplace because praise is strongly associated with how proud employees feel about their self-worth and self-motivation. Praise also impacts employee’s creativity, attention to detail and even loyalty. And for all you moms, dads and grandparents out there: This has as much impact on the self-worth and self-motivation children feel.
The solution is to give people specific, effort-based praise in the workplace to support smart, resilient people.
For example, effort-based praise may sound something like, “Bruce, you pulled together a great report clearly outlining the pros and cons of the new messaging we are considering for next season.” And you might go on to say, “I especially like how you included a section relating to our corporate values.” This is how you give effective praise that motivates your team. In this example, no matter what happens next, Bruce will be proud of the work he did. And, most importantly, it’s almost guaranteed that the next time Bruce writes a report that he’ll be even more motivated and thorough.
When we give specific, effort-based praise, we help people grow in line with the agreed upon goals and values. Effort-based praise is especially important for people who are learning new skills because it shows them exactly what is important. People are also typically less likely to give up at the first sign of a challenge when their effort is being rewarded. Instead, it builds resilient people by helping them learn stamina and persistence.
Unfortunately, with our busy schedules, many of us have forgotten or never learned to give our team, our co-workers and even our children praise that is reflective of their effort. Instead, we give them high-level uninspiring feedback that is open for interpretation. So, in the future, let’s not make this common mistake about giving praise.
Give specific, effort-based praise a try, whether at work or at home. Create a more positive and productive environment where everyone is proud of their effort and their accomplishments. Help them learn that when the work gets tough, the tough gets going … that they don’t give up. Try sharing effort-based praise with employees; I’m very sure you’ll see that when people feel proud of their work, their natural motivation flourishes.
Bruce Mayhew is an executive coach, corporate trainer and conference speaker who has spoken at a number of INTIX Annual Conferences. Mayhew specializes in soft skills like leadership and new leadership development, motivation skills, generational differences, difficult conversations training, change management, time management and email etiquette. Learn more at www.brucemayhewconsulting.com.
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