Praise, encouragement can go a long way with employees

Dear Joan:
I’ve been following your column for years and I’m wondering if you have ever written anything about how to praise your employees, since I can’t remember seeing that specific subject. With employees working harder and harder, I’m noticing more self-evaluations by employees that list Amore praise from my manager would be nice.

My company isn’t in a position to give financial rewards every time an employee does something good. And I really don’t think our employees expect that. I’m talking about recognizing them and appreciating them for the work they do. Are there any tips? We’re all busy and it’s an important aspect of managing but it’s hard to remember and find the time.

You may be right. In past columns I’ve touched on showing appreciation and recognizing extra effort but I’ve never devoted a column to it, and it’s about time. In fact, I don’t know how I could have overlooked it. Perhaps I fell into the same trap that most managers fall seems so basic and simple that we underestimate the power of it. Too often, we only notice it when we don’t get enough of it.

No matter how old we get, or how accomplished, people respond to praise and encouragement. It feeds our self-esteem and ego and pushes us to achieve more and try harder. Yet, many managers get preoccupied with tasks and results and they ignore the employee’s internal fundamental motivators. What a critical mistake. Our internal drivers, like the engine of a car, can’t perform well without enough fuel.

Whether you are a manager or a co-worker, recognizing the efforts of others will not only be motivating to those around you, it will also elevate you to a position of leadership. Here are some things to consider:

·         Pay attention to the cues that people give you. Every day, your co-workers drop hints that they would like some appreciation. Do you hear them? For example, "Here's the data you needed for your presentation this afternoon." (You say, "Thank you.") "Oh it was no big deal. I'll have some time to finish my part of the project over lunch today." If you don’t pick up on the fact that they were inconvenienced, and you don’t tell them how much you appreciate their extra effort, don’t be surprised if they’re less willing next time.

·         Don’t just say "Thank you" or "Good job." It simply isn’t enough. The secret is to be specific. For instance, your sales rep just hung up the phone after dealing with a very tough customer. You could say, "I heard your conversation. I liked the way you handled that situation." But you would have missed the opportunity for a leadership moment, AI heard your conversation. That must have been tough. I really liked the way you handled it. You were calm, you kept focused on what you could do to resolve his complaint and you were paraphrasing him to show you were really listening to his concerns." When you paint a specific picture of what you liked, you increase the chances of getting more of it.

·         Do it on the fly. Don’t wait for a time when it’s less hectic. It only takes an extra moment and busy times are when people need it most because they’re running on empty. If you only praise people during their performance review, they feel cheated the rest of the year. They wonder if you=re only going though the motions because someone told you to give good feedback along with the bad on the evaluation form.

·         Tell them. Too often, managers and co-workers tell everyone around them how much they appreciate their associate, but they never actually tell the person themselves. It’s surprising to me how often I have complimented someone by telling them that their peer or boss speaks highly of them, only to hear, "Gee that’s nice that he told you. I wish he’d tell me!" Forget the idea that the employee is going to get a "big head" or expect a raise if you tell them how good they are. If they do, you can deal with it, but chances are they will be thrilled that you noticed and work even harder in order to justify your appreciation.

·         Don’t be fooled into thinking that giving out annual appreciation awards will take the place of daily appreciation. Although company-wide recognition can be an ego booster, it doesn’t fuel the inner engine on a daily basis. An annual bonus is equally ineffective in sustaining inner motivation.

·         Mean what you say. Your tone of voice and eye contact can either enhance your message or detract from it. Have you noticed that the busier you get, the less you make eye contact with your co-workers? You=re riveted to your computer screen or your nose is buried in a memo as you walk down the hall. Stop, notice, and look at the person. Insincere praise is worse than no praise at all.

·         Put it in writing. It doesn’t have to be typed and formal. A short note is fast and easy. I know people who have a file of every complimentary note they’ve ever received! What does that say about the power of recognition?


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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