Not too long ago, a global insurance company surveyed thousands of its employees through an Employee Satisfaction Questionnaire, seeking feedback to improve what the senior executives identified as a “morale problem.” The results of the survey were enlightening, particularly the response to Question #6: What can your manager do to make this a better place to work? More than 89% of the employees answered, “Recognize me for a job well done.”
One of the most basic findings in psychology is that rewarding a specific behavior increases the likelihood of the behavior being repeated. Praise serves as an important reward and motivation for good work.
Praise strengthens the relationships a manager has with his or her direct reports. People want to know their manager cares about them enough to pay attention to what they are doing. They also want to know their contributions are genuinely appreciated.
Employees who frequently receive appropriate praise for positive contributions are often more receptive to corrective feedback. The best managers know that balancing appropriate praise and corrective feedback are critical to helping employees stay on track. When managers show they have their employees’ best interests at heart, employees are naturally more open to hearing how they can improve.
Dr. Gerald Graham, the RP Clinton Distinguished Professor of Management at Wichita State University, surveyed 1,500 employees from a wide variety of organizations and industries and reported the following participant responses:
- 58% seldom if ever received praise from their manager
- 76% seldom if ever received written thanks from their manager
- 78% seldom if ever got a promotion based on performance
- 81% seldom if ever received public praise
- 92% seldom if ever participated in a meeting designed to build morale
This same study invited participants to rank, in order, 65 potential motivators – the top five are those listed above!
Most leaders agree that praise is important, that it leads to better morale, higher productivity, and builds a stronger relationship with employees. So if praise is so powerful, why don’t managers praise more often?
- Despite good intentions, many managers have so much to accomplish that praise falls to the bottom of their to-do list
- Managers focus on eliminating barriers to needed results and, therefore, focus solely on employees’ failure to meet standards
- The tone of the management team is set from above – many managers report they never receive praise from their manager
- They have not developed the habit of letting people know how much they are appreciated
Guidelines for Delivering Effective Praise
The following guidelines can help managers become more effective in offering genuine, appropriate praise:
1. Be genuinely appreciative. Every person on your team is doing part of your job for you. While it is important to recognize the true home runs of performance, don’t forget those who plug along solidly every day are committed to doing a good job.
2. Deliver praise from your heart. Your appreciation of their efforts must be evident in your facial expression, your tone of voice, and how you phrase your praise. You want your employees to know that the job they perform well is important to you, to your team, to your department, your organization.
3. Deliver praise as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the quarterly (or annual!) formal performance management discussion to mention something an employee did months ago. By continually observing performance, you can offer timely expressions of acknowledgement and appreciation. Genuine praise helps people feel good about themselves and even more committed to doing a good job.
4. Make praise specific by describing the exact behavior or skill along with your expression of appreciation. “Nice work, Jim” is much less motivating than describing specific examples of what was done. Specific praise assures employees that you are truly paying close attention to what they do and how they do it.
5. Praise people publicly. Acknowledging people in public accomplishes two important things. The employees feel even better as they are recognized in front of their peers. In addition, public praise is one way of reminding other employees of what you want from them.
Praise is an effective tool to increase employee engagement and promote a positive work environment. It can take only seconds to deliver, yet the impact of consistent genuine, appropriate praise can be immediate and long-term.