How to Praise Employees

by | Apr 24, 2017

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How to Praise Employees

“People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition.”

Dale Carnegie said that. He also wrote How to Win Friends & Influence People. A valuable book that you can read here for free. But I digress.

This article explains:

  1. Why being recognized is such a satisfying, motivating sensation.
  2. How to praise people genuinely, inspiring them in the process.

Let’s dive in.

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Why is being recognized such a satisfying, motivating sensation?

Recognition makes people feel appreciated. And feeling appreciated can be very moving, leading to employees who are happier and more productive, more loyal.

From a scientific standpoint, recognition aids in developing our Esteem, a crucial human need according to Maslow. That’s why we crave affirmation, particularly during periods of learning and development – and especially at work. It’s a measure of our competence and value, our self-worth.

People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition. - Dale Carnegie

Consciously or otherwise, this desire for positive public feedback is in us all. We all may not need it to get the job done, but it helps us do it better; we like it. Enjoying recognition is being human.

In fact, Fortune commissioned a survey asking one question:

“What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?”

The majority of respondents, 37%, said recognition, which begs the question:

How can leaders praise people genuinely, properly?

Effective as it is at compelling quality work, there is, in fact, a wrong way to say “Nice job.”

Drawing on a few examples, your praise will mean less if:

  • It’s given to everyone, rather than someone:

    “Thank you for bringing that project home, team, we’re thrilled with each person here.”

  • It’s given on a fixed schedule rather than spontaneously:

    “Jon? He’s doing really well.”

    “Have you told him that?”

    “Not yet. I’ll wait till his annual review next month.”

  • It’s given with dashes of criticism or sarcasm:

    “Dave … fi-nal-ly … closed a sale. Nice work!”

Bungled praise feels different, fake. It can even create a paradoxical reaction, demotivating people.

The guidelines below will help ensure the recognition you dole out is accepted, appreciated, and acted upon. They’re based on a universal code developed by Bob Nelson, Ph.D., a motivational expert who says that praise must be given:

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This book will help you create a healthy, rewarding environment for the people that keep your company moving forward.

1. Soon: Don’t wait.

A pat on the back feels better if it quickly follows a job well-done.

Our emotions, after all, are heightened after we put in extra effort. We feel owed somehow. Having those feeling immediately met with praise, then, can be satisfying and balancing.

2. Sincerely: Do it out of genuine appreciation.

Words alone aren’t enough.

How you say it matters more than what you’re saying. Mind your tone and pace when giving recognition. If possible, make eye contact. Smile. Be warm. These variables comprise a sincere gesture.

3. Specifically: Do it with the details.

It’s not minutiae. Details give your praise credibility and validity. They also serve a practical purpose, educating others. For example:

GOOD: “Shout out to Pete for turning a customer complaint into a positive Google review!”

GREAT: “Shout out to Pete for taking the time to listen to an irate customer’s rant yesterday. Pete’s patience, poise, and professionalism helped turn a negative experience into a 5-star Google review!”

4. Personally: Do it face-to-face, if you can.

A handshake; a smile; a pat on the back; eye contact: These touches will enhance your gesture. That said, sometimes being face-to-face isn’t possible.

If that’s the case, here are some long-distance alternatives:

  • Do it in a video call.
  • Do it on a conference call.
  • Do it with a handwritten note.

5. Positively: Don’t pepper in negatives.

And there will always be negatives. Nobody is consistently exceptional. Therefore, when giving recognition, lay all of the bad aside—or risk nullifying the gesture altogether.

Quick tip: Avoid the word “but” when giving praise.

6. Proactively: Don’t stop looking for opportunities.

In other words, make it a point to recognize people whenever you can. Don’t wait for the perfect performance to come about. After all …

Recognition is not a scarce resource. You can’t use it up or run out of it. - Susan M. Heathfield, HR expert

Too long; didn’t read:

Professional praise is priceless—and usually costs employers nothing.

That said, not all recognition is created equal. There’s a right and wrong way to express your appreciation, especially at work.

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