The Self-Awareness Guy

How to Be Stingy with Praise

I work with many different leaders and organizations and I get a feel for how their workplaces run by observing how they interact in the training we do together.  I regularly notice that when the topic of praise (or praising employees) comes up or when we discuss praising people on the job one or more people will raise an objection.  It usually goes something like this:

  • You have to be careful about praising too much.
  • It's counter-productive to praise all the time.
  • It's phony to praise people a lot.
  • Praise makes people soft.
  • Praise makes people achieve less.
  • How do you praise everyone when only one person deserves praise?
  • Why would I praise bad behavior?
  • I don't believe you.
  • That doesn't work.

The remarkable thing about these types of statement or questions is how much they illustrate our discomfort about praising employees.  Perhaps it comes from our families; where we had to prove our worth or rarely (if ever) heard a supportive word.  It could arise from never having worked in an organization where praise was part of the culture or leadership praised often.  These thought patterns become entrenched in us to the point where we'll argue about whether praise is positive and behave accordingly.

What I've come to realize is that people are suspicious of praise primarily because they have not yet experienced it in action.  Praise builds workplaces where employees feel valued.  It is also one of the best tools to increase the likelihood that employees will repeat a desired behavior and find other ways to contribute.  People like it when someone appreciates the work they're doing or the ideas they bring to the table.

Leaders who are stingy with praise tend to create workplaces where people are starving for recognition, feel unappreciated and where productivity, procedures and rules take precedence over people.  Praise offers a great opportunity to create a workplace that celebrates instead of castigates.  Here are some guidelines for praising people:

  • Praise positive behaviors.
  • Be genuine and generous.
  • Praise specific things that people are doing well.
  • Distribute praise evenly, find something positive each person is doing.
  • Make the praise about the other person, keep it brief and focused on them.
  • Keep praising until it becomes the new culture.

The trap many leaders get caught in is thinking that praise is stroking people for bad work when it's actually about celebrating good work.  We've been conditioned into thinking that criticism and directives are the only ways to motivate people when a simple, "I appreciate the great job you did," does much more for building morale and motivation.  What are your tips on praising in the workplace?