“Great job last week! Sara told me about your extra effort to get it over the finish line. I appreciate you.”
“This month’s teamwork award goes to John. Here’s 3 specific things he hit out of the park…”
Are statements like this commonplace for you?
How much time and energy should we spend praising those we lead, whether in public or private?
Some will say, “Always!” Others, “Only for heroic effort!”
In the dynamic day-to-day of leading, there’s a natural ebb and flow to the demands on our capacity. Whatever our baseline, there are times we should focus extra on recognition. I’ve observed 4 areas that can help us decide “when.”
Some of us are naturally wired for praise. It can be fuel on our fire. For others, a compliment is nice but doesn’t really move our meter. I’ve been using Hogan Assessments for several years, and one of their Motivator scales is “Recognition.” If a team member has a high score, giving them recognition is an easy boost for morale.
Those low on that scale tend not to understand this. They are more than willing to share credit, but say things like, “I told you last quarter you were doing well, why do you need to hear it again? Nothing’s changed.” In this case, you don’t need to understand it, just do it. It helps!
Sometimes recognition is needed even when someone is “just doing their job” – especially if they are new.
Dr. Ayelet Fischbach’s (University of Chicago) research shows that those who are new to a domain tend to need encouragement and praise. Their commitment and confidence is still shaky, and they need to know what they are doing right. But experts look for every edge and are often hungry for critique.
In his book The Ideal Team Player, Pat Lencioni talks about giving this kind of positive feedback after critique – when someone has received clear feedback on a behavior they need to change. Even tiny successes in that new behavior should be celebrated, for a time. This helps the team member see what they are doing right and become more motivated to do it. As the behavior becomes routine, that praise can diminish.
(Read more on rookie vs. expert feedback here.)
As a generalization, recognition seems particularly important for Gen Y (Millennial) and Gen Z. It’s a bit of generational pickle juice, after all. Maybe that longing comes from the conditioning of participation trophies, whether as a consistent expectation or as a desire to differentiate from baseline. “What sets me apart?”
The caution is, of course, to avoid overly-generalizing or settling for stereotypes. Be curious about each individual, always.
I’ve noticed that specific industries may have their own trends, where a cohort may cut against the broader trend of their generational peers.
This likely relates to the unique cultures that may exist in specific industries or organizations.
Work culture can impact the “right dosage” for praise or recognition. If new to an organization, pay attention to the existing norms and reasons for them.
Broader national culture is also in play. For instance, culture expert Erin Meyer’s work indicates that Americans are quite prolific in giving praise. According to Meyer, it even impacts delivery of negative feedback. Ever hear of the feedback sandwich? Positive, negative, positive? I think it was in managerial curricula a couple decades ago, although I recommend against it.
Like many things, entering a different culture – ethnic, national, or organizational – invites a review of our own assumptions around praise.
These 4 areas can inform our decisions to give recognition and praise. But here’s a simple rule of thumb – when in doubt, give it. The downsides are scarce, and the upsides can be significant. Giving recognition is a good habit for any of us. Never insincere or unmerited, but when a job is done right, take note and tell the person.