Talent Management

Another Way to Motivate Employees: Try Building a Culture of Praise

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If you’re like most managers, you want to motivate employees — the problem is how.

You could try bonuses, regular reviews, occasional hand slapping, or something else, but here’s the one powerful idea many of us forget: Praise.

Everybody wants to call out an employee’s bad behavior; too few remember to compliment the good.

Charles Schwab said, “I have yet to find the person, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth a greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism.” He was right.

When your employees are surrounded by encouragement and affirmation about their efforts, they’re motivated to continue doing good work. So take a look at your workplace environment. Is this the type of culture you offer? It should be.

Here’s how to build a culture of praise at your firm:

Give verbal encouragement

A genuine “well done” from leadership is a powerful motivator for employees.

Everybody likes to be noticed and encouraged, including the members of your team, and this doesn’t have to be complicated. Just say “thank you” and “you nailed that” and so on, and you’re well on your way to creating a positive workplace environment. R

Rather than riding your staffers about their mistakes, try praising what they’re doing right, out loud. When you praise the positive, you fan the flames of more good work.

Be specific

Telling an employee you appreciate his or her work is good; telling an employee you appreciate the way he or she stuck with last week’s complicated research project, even when the deadlines kept changing, is better.

Be specific about what you’re praising, and you come across as authentic. What’s more, your praise comes across as more meaningful.

Be genuine

Speaking of being authentic, the surest way for praise to backfire is to be fake about it.

Employees aren’t stupid, and they can tell when you’re just checking off “praise employee” from your to-do list. So match your praise to the work actually done, and say what you mean. Otherwise, you create worse morale than if you had said nothing.

Before praising an employee, ask yourself what he or she is doing that is making your company better. Take time to notice good work before praising it — then you can speak from the heart.

Be fast

Here’s a quick tip worth remembering: When an employee goes above and beyond, don’t put off recognizing him or her.

The longer you wait, the less meaningful the praise becomes. Give your affirmation quickly to have the greatest impact.

Praise publicly

When you praise the marketing team at a company-wide meeting, you double the impact of your encouragement. Not only do your marketing personnel feel publicly affirmed, but also other staff members recognize that you reward good work.

Use board meetings and staff retreats to appreciate your people, and you create a culture of praise.

Show respect for an employee’s knowledge

Asking for advice and feedback might seem like a strange thing to do with your employees, but that’s only because you’re not practicing a culture of praise.

Look at your staff. Who knows his or her stuff? Who’s consistently productive? Who has the highest customer reviews?

When you notice something positive about a team member, talk to him or her about it. Ask exceptional employees how they do it. Give them a chance to share their expertise. This shows respect and strongly improves morale

How are you currently practicing these affirming tips, and how could you improve? Would your staff members say they feel appreciated, or are they often overlooked?

It’s never too late to change your habits and move towards a more positive work culture. Start today by looking at your employees and telling them that you appreciate what they do.

Then, don’t be surprised when more than their morale changes. You might end up liking your office culture a whole lot more, too.

Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Web design firm providing specialized SEO, Web development, and other online marketing services. Follow Straight North on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Richard

    This just is not true. Employees are sick to death of gimmicky, motivational programs like this. “Good job!! Thank you!!” Lay on the hype!! Employees can see through this, especially when you are praising pretty average performance. If you really want to motivate employees, you need to hire extremely successful, principled, brainy, hardworking, non-greedy leadership who model all these things without patting themselves on the back and expect the highest level of performance from everyone.

    • Sunshine

      I agree with Richard. “Good job!! Thank you!!” is helpful sometimes. But the main things is the leaders/managers need to lead with integrity and respect.

  • Richard Still

    It depends on what kind of culture your employees want to work in. If they WANT to work in a family/clan culture where everyone is valued and appreciated and eats the birthday cake, then your advice is correct. But it is not correct in every instance, some people want to work in a competitive environment where winning is praised, some want to work in unstructured adhocracies, some people want to work in organizations with clear rules and responsibilities. I think before you start putting ‘ataboy’ post-it notes on everyone’s monitor, take the time to find out what KIND of company they want to work in.

    • TheSmileCeo

      This is a great point, but coming from a background in professional sports their can be a culture of competition and praise in the same place. One persons “wins” do not have to come at the expense of another’s. I do agree that the most important step is to measure accurately first and understand the culture that is desired and what that actually sounds and feels like to employees and executives and to then make the effort to support the development and maintenance of that desired culture.

  • TheSmileCeo

    This is our kind of article, we’re all about praise, and are placing a heavy emphasis on facilitating Peer 2 Peer recognition to increase the levels of positivity in the workplace and reduce the weight on managers to do all of the praising. @plasticity

  • kate

    Well written. I work for an organization that rarely praises. I started with the organization in a management roll and beganpraising my team–Whale Done by Ken Blanchard, anyone??–and the morale change was significant. I don’t have ro get praise to do a good job, but it sure makes a differece in morale…an important difference. Good article. Now if only I could convince the leadership above me to read and follow these suggestions, they’d have a happier head office and overall happier and more effective team.

  • Jennifer Scott

    Great post, and solid tips towards improving motivation in the workplace. I caution that employers really want to focus on encouragement, not on “praise”. Being specific and genuine will help that. “Great job!” is not nearly as effective as “It is really apparent that you worked very hard on that project and the customer really appreciates it. You must be very proud of yourself.” Encouragement fosters self-confidence, invites creativity and develops intrinsic motivation, vs. true praise which fosters a dependence on someone else telling you that you did a good job.

  • Barbara

    I notice that the women here say one thing, and 2 of the 3 men say another. I’ll go with Jennifer, Kate and Smile CEO. Do we need to factor in gender issues here? I see the other male respondents are rather scornful of praise, characterizing it as “ataboy post-it notes” and “birthday cake”. These responses make me shudder. I know very few women who respond positively to a highly competitive or authoritarian work environment, or one where good performance is expected but backpatting is not the norm. Perhaps in addition to finding out what kind of workplace employees want, it might be good to check what sex they are.