Why Don’t I Praise People Enough?

trophyI had a funny realization recently. I have no problem heaping praise on my two-year-old son – every time he utters a new word, finishes his food or kicks the ball I am clapping, cheering and hugging him till he tells me in this funny two-year-old voice; ‘stop it papa’. So if I do it so eagerly for my son, why do I have such a problem doing the same for my team members? Is it that I don’t want to overdo it, or don’t want to look insincere? Is it that I want to hold out praise for special occasions or for specific mammoth achievements? Is it because I don’t see the things that go right and only focus on the things that go wrong?

Unfortunately, I am not alone. From our ‘Best Place to Work’ Studies we know that employees feeling recognized for what they do is a constant underachiever. In our 2012 editions of the BPTW survey, only half of the respondents agreed that ‘they had received praise in the last 7 days’, making “recognition” in the bottom 20% of all 40 engagement factors.

From our research and that of many other publications, one thing is clear; employees want to be praised more. I recently read Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler. A great book, not only for the suggestions on how to confront people in a way that they deliver on commitments, but also as it had a great section on ‘When Things Go Right’. From their book and from my own experience here are 4 ‘counter-intuitive’ suggestions to heap sincere praise on your team:

1. Praise Small Things
As employees, we expect to be honored and praised for exceptional achievements. We also expect comparable exceptional rewards. As a result, only recognizing breakthrough achievements, does not do anything to quench our appetite for praise. Focus instead on the small things with small momentos. For example, write a hand written Thank You note for a person handling a difficult customer call particularly well, staying out late even if they have parenting obligations, a person supporting an initiative quietly, or for solving a small problem that has been nagging the department for some time.

2. Praise Individuals in Private and Groups in Public
People love to bask in the admiration of their colleagues and friends. However, more often than not employees who attend the ‘annual company award ceremony’ leave the event questioning why others were selected and not them. I am aware of the arguments that indicate that by highlighting individual performance in a group setting gives employees an example / role model to emulate. This works when the achievement is something that sticks out as remarkable work practice. For all other instances, it is better to praise the individuals in private and teams in public.

3. Focus on more on Process and Less on Results
Being a believer in doing the ‘right things right will deliver you the results’ – I would focus my praise more on people doing the right things rather then the actual results. The potential side effect of just focusing on results might blow up in your face with people taking short cuts or by taking a Machiavellian approach. The positive side effect of focusing on process is that you can heap praise each and every team member, as everybody contributes in a small or large way. You don’t have to wait for the results and can do it as often as you want.

4. You Can’t Praise Enough
Praising people is similar to communicating a message. You can’t do it enough. So start praising more than you think you possibly can and then double it. I know your natural reaction will be that you don’t want to go overboard. But as long as you are sincere in your praise I don’t think that anybody can set a limit. Put yourself in the receivers shoes, when was the last time you told your boss to stop recognizing you for your work?

Team members feeling appreciated adds tremendously to their engagement level and in return to their commitment and output. So that should be reason enough for you to double your efforts. However it has also additional side effects. Sincere praise given also enhances your ‘respect-reserves’ something you can draw on when it is time to talk about the tough stuff.

Although I can’t remember the source, I remember reading somewhere that you need to praise an individual 7 times before they take your feedback seriously. (By the way for spouses this is 14 times, so gentleman before you ask your wife about that credit card statement make sure you have praised her 14 times about all kind of other things!)

Go on start writing these Thank You notes!

– Paul Keijzer

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2 thoughts on “Why Don’t I Praise People Enough?

  1. Well captured Paul. It is one of the easiest things to do for which most leaders do not find time. It also goes hand in hand with the principle that as a leader one should be looking for strengths rather than weaknesses in other people. You pick up any successful case study on a big turn around, you would find recognising people contribution by leaders at all levels 9 out of 10 times as a critical success factor. Though how you do it has to fit in with the local culture to maximise impact. (Hasan)

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