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Praise is one of the most underrated, yet crucial, parts of managing. It can dramatically change how people feel and the caliber of work they produce. Research reported on Harvard Business Review shows that teams that are praised most outperformed those praised less across key criteria like financial performance, customer satisfaction, and 360-degree feedback.

Yet, most managers don’t give effective praise or nearly enough of it.  A Gallup study found that more than two-thirds of employees do not receive any praise in a given week. This is while their research shows that getting “praise or recognition for good work” increases revenue and productivity 10% to 20% and that those feeling unrecognized are three times more likely to quit in the next year. Something’s got to give.

As a manager, there are many soft skills to develop, and one of the most crucial ones is giving praise. Approaching it like a skill and habit to develop gives you the right mindset to get great results from your team. But if giving praise feels awkward or unnecessary to you, here’s how you can make this critical habit work for you as part of your leadership routine.


Three Keys to Giving Effective Praise

Giving good praise is actually quite easy if you remember just 3 words: Frequent, Specific, & Strategic.

1) Frequent

Mary Kay Ash of the Mary Kay Cosmetics empire once said,“There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

When you don’t praise your team regularly, they don’t know where they stand with you. As a manager, what you don’t say may be assumed based on limited information like your demeanor in a meeting or a face you made in passing. I’m amazed each time I have talked to a team member and discover they had mistaken something small I did for being upset with them.

This is why praise can be so valuable. It gives your team more information, so they know where they stand with you and how you feel. Never forget that as a manager, your opinion matters to your team and they are constantly looking to you for information about their status. Effective praise has been the easiest way for me to relieve that tension with my team.

Unfortunately, science is working against those of us who don’t give enough praise. While negative comments, which fuel the release of the stress hormone cortisol, have an effect on the human brain for 26 hours or more, positive ones, which release the bonding and trust hormone oxytocin, last for a much shorter period of time. In another study, it was found that the highest performing teams had a praise to negative comments ratio of over 5.6.  The bottom line: We could all use to praise our teams more frequently.


2) Specific

Now, you don’t need to make them feel like they’re brushing their teeth with sugar just to get your praise to criticism ratio over 5. Hollow, brief, “good jobs” for everything won’t cut it.

Instead, tell them *exactly* what you liked in their work. Was it the way they commented their code? Did they give a detailed, efficient, and prompt answer in a support question? Were they able to take control of a bad situation and get everyone quickly working towards a good solution? If you specifically acknowledge what you liked in what they did, they will know that you really paid attention and they’ll know exactly what to do to be praised again.

In a study by Towers Watson, the researchers found that the highest driver of work engagement was whether workers felt their managers were genuinely interested in them and their well-being. Think about how many times in your own career you’ve said to yourself things like, “I don’t think they even notice what I do.” Those feelings come from a lack of recognition for your work and efforts.  You can avoid your team feeling the same way by specifically recognizing their efforts, especially if you take the time to look for unsung and overlooked heroes on projects.


3) Strategic

Now that you know how important praise is and the structure of good praise, it’s time to get strategic about it: Use praise to develop your people.

Pick something each person on your team could use to improve on or a skill you want them to add. Work with them on it and any time you see them make improvement or do something great, praise them specifically for it. You will see them light up and keep getting better at it until they’re at the level you want. Occasionally praising the things you know they’ve always been good at will also keep them from feeling like no one notices their ongoing hard work.

What you reward and recognize is what you get. If you don’t recognize anything, the bar will lower to see what gets noticed (or what they can get away with). When you do praise and reward your team, you raise the bar based on what gets praised.

I once had a team member that seemed disengaged. Her work was ok, but she wasn’t bringing the same energy and enthusiasm as others. We wondered if we should keep her on the team. However, before we took such drastic measures, I tried using praise to improve her. We put her on a new project and I emphasized how important she was to its success. I then specifically praised her each time I saw her do something great. To my surprise, not only did she do a great job on the project, but her other work and her attitude improved dramatically. I have never questioned the power of praise since.


If you want great work from your people, remember to have your praise be:

Frequent: Don’t go a week without recognizing their hard work.

Specific: Make it clear what you want to see more of.

Strategic: Reinforce unsung work and keep people learning & improving on new skills.


Start praising today!

Don’t feel like this is a big task you don’t have time for. It’s one of many things you can do to be a better manager in 5 minutes or less.

Set aside a few minutes each week to reflect on something you can praise each member of your team for.  A simple note thanking them specifically for something they’ve done well will bring smiles all around.  Send it on a Friday afternoon and you might just have your whole team smiling all weekend.

How have you used praise as part of effectively managing your team?

Jason Evanish is founder of Get Lighthouse, an app to help you be a better manager. You can sign up to receive more posts on Leadership and Management like this from the Lighthouse blog here.

Tags: change, culture, inspiration, praise, relationships, team,

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