What’s the number one thing talented employees want? To be praised and appreciated for what they do. Research studies continually show that this aspect of a job is the one that most determines whether or not you retain your top performers. Why then do those same research studies find that it is also the area employees say managers neglect? We all know that praising our staff is important and most of us feel that we are doing it on a regular basis. So again, why do most employees say they aren’t getting it? Probably it is because we don’t do it the right way. In fact, many managers are really bad at it. I know what you’re thinking, “Can praise ever really be bad?” Isn’t it like pizza, even when it’s done badly, it’s still pretty darn good? Actually, praise delivered in the wrong way can have the opposite effect of what you intended. More about that in a minute…
Praise, The Addictive Drug
Praise is absolutely critical to a person feeling positive about his work. Gallup found that 69% of employees prefer praise and recognition from their managers more than financial rewards, and 82% percent say when they receive praise it inspires them to improve their performance.
How much praise does someone need? Gallup suggests that most people need daily praise in their work environment. In a study* published in American Psychologist, researchers found that top performers experienced a positive to negative emotions ratio at a minimum 3:1 and as high as 11:1. This means that for a person to “flourish” he/she needs to experience at least 3 positive interactions for every 1 negative. When you think about how much negative feedback a salesperson receives every day, it becomes more apparent why sales managers in particular, need to supply the positive feedback in order to stimulate those positive emotions. That is where praise comes into play.
When you praise a person it obviously produces positive emotions. This causes a chemical reaction in the brain and a release of the chemical called Dopamine. This is the powerful and addictive chemical that when released, makes a person feel joy, pleasure, or pride. When Dopamine is released, it is exactly the same chemical response that happens after taking cocaine. If you praise someone for a particular behavior, Dopamine is released which gives the person a “high” and makes him want to repeat the behavior to induce that feeling again. And, praising your employees is a lot cheaper than cocaine.
All of this may sound very time consuming. How are you going to find time to praise all of your employees on a daily basis? First, YOU are not the only one who can be doling out the praise. Encourage a culture of peer recognition and praise. Getting praise from a co-worker can produce the same rush of emotions as it does when a person receives it from a boss. Secondly, it’s likely that you interact with your employees many times throughout the day and probably over a hundred times a week. Praising someone can take 10 seconds.
The more difficult thing is remembering to do it. When you see or hear about something praiseworthy make a note or enter it in your calendar or to-do list so that you don’t forget to deliver the praise. A helpful tool is a Praise Log. It’s a simple way to keep track of who and what you want to praise. if you track yourself with this tool, you will find it becomes second nature and you will develop your praise muscles!
How To Give (And NOT Give) Praise
Be Specific. Praise needs to given for a specific behavior. Passing someone in the hall and saying, “Hey, you’re doing a great job, I appreciate it,” is NOT praise. In fact, that is the type of thing that will have the opposite effect on a person. Now that person is wondering, “Does she even KNOW what I do or care?” Instead, try something like, “I really appreciate the way you took care of Client XYZ’s issue with billing. I know that was difficult and I just wanted to thank you.” When you are done, leave – don’t go on to bring up other work situations – that can be done separately. You want the person to have a moment to digest the praise and feel the release of Dopamine.
Go To Their Turf. Don’t call your employee into your office to deliver praise. It’s more effective if you make the effort to go to them. Besides, everybody’s stomach drops with a summons to the boss’ office even if you haven’t done anything wrong (it’s like that feeling when you see a police car behind you and are nervous even if you aren’t speeding). If you can’t deliver it in-person then write a handwritten note, email, text, call, or leave a voice mail message. In-person praise is powerful but I also think it’s good to mix in written praise as well. Written notes can be saved and pulled out and re-read when you need a little pick-me-up.
Be Sincere. Seems like a no-brainer, but don’t praise someone if you don’t genuinely feel appreciative. Most salespeople have a very well developed B.S. detector.
Be Timely. Try to give the praise as close to the action that warranted it, to reinforce the behavior.
Praise Something Less Obvious. Yes, you should praise a salesperson for getting a great sale. But it is also important to praise some of the “little things” that a person does that helps get to the accomplishment. Praise the behaviors you want to see repeated.
Praise Along The Way. Don’t always wait to praise an end result. Give praise for continuing work on a difficult task. This type of praise encourages a person to keep pushing and not give up.
Praise Everyone. It’s important to praise all of your employees, regularly. This includes your veterans as well as rookies. Don’t think a veteran sales person doesn’t need it – I guarantee you no matter how much praise the person has received, it’s like jello, “there’s always room for more.” What if you have an employee and you can’t find anything sincere and genuine to praise? Fire the employee – she is in the wrong position and deserves to work in a job where she can shine.
Praise Is Not Deli Meat. Therefore, praise should not be “sandwiched” between corrective feedback. Praise should ALWAYS be given without any “buts” or other information attached to it.
Manners Are Not Praise. Saying “thank you for getting me that report” or “thanks for your help” is not praise. It’s good manners to say these things (which are very important of course) but don’t confuse it with praise. Saying, “thank you for getting me that report and outlining your ideas the way you did; it really helped me understand the issues better and make a better decision” is praise.
Get Over Yourself. Sometimes managers are uncomfortable giving praise. They feel it comes across awkward or they get nervous. That’s ok. You still need to give it. Like anything else, practice makes it easier. Remember, this isn’t about how YOU feel, it’s about the person you are praising.
Commit to making praising your employees a top priority. You’ll boost those positivity ratios and you’ll see a boost in your team’s productivity as well.
“The two things people want more than sex or money are recognition and praise.” - Mary Kay Ash, Founder Of Mary Kay Cosmetics*2005, American Psychologist, Barbara L. Fredrickson and Marcial F. Losada study
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