Praise Awareness

By Malcolm Fleschner

Doling out praise is a lot like volunteering for the neighborhood block party – you know you really should do it, but often it’s just easier not to bother. Then again, maybe you’re the type of manager who feels employees don’t deserve praise because they’re only performing their expected duties. Or that by expressing your appreciation for a job well done you’ll somehow appear soft.

Sorry, but none of those excuses is going to cut it, says Kelley Robertson, motivation expert and president of the Ontario, Canada-based Robertson Training Group ( The reality, Robertson explains, is that people will work harder for someone who recognizes their efforts, so praise should come at a steady clip from anyone who hopes to manage people successfully.

Robertson admits, however, that providing positive reinforcement is not always easy. Here are his four top suggestions for handing out praise that pays.

1. Be specific. Some managers think recognition means offering up a generic good-job-out-there-today comment to employees, but this is not an ideal praise strategy. The recipient might well wonder: Which job? When today, exactly? Praise needs to be specific because you also want to reinforce your salespeople’s positive behaviors. So instead, try saying something more akin to: Alan, you did a great job calming down that irate customer about the changes in the delivery schedule.

2. Remember that sincerity counts. Praise that sounds forced probably is worse than no praise at all. Monitor your tone of voice and body language to make sure the message you’re sending is one of gratitude and sincere recognition of positive performance. Give some thought ahead of time to what you want to say, as well as how you want to say it and your message won’t come across garbled or mealy-mouthed. Also, keep it short – don’t turn a short message of praise into a punishing 30-minute dissertation on the importance of returning phone calls promptly

3. Don’t focus just on results. Focusing on results is, of course, important, but keep the big picture in mind. You don’t want your team members thinking that all you care about is that they closed the big sale. They need to know you understand how much effort and energy they had to put into each step along the way. Say: Susan, you really believed in the potential of that account and saw it through. The extra effort really paid off.

4. Be prompt. As soon as you become aware of employees’ worthy efforts, let them know. Time may heal all wounds, but it dilutes the impact of recognition. Also, find the appropriate venue, if possible. Most employees appreciate public recognition, but not all. Know each of your team members well enough to figure out which ones are which.