How often do you take the time to praise others for a job well done? Do you make a point of providing positive feedback to those who help you accomplish your goals? How frequently?
Employees are better able to hear and respond to constructive criticism when there is a balance of criticism and praise. If an employee hears only the negative, then there is little motivation to improve. The thinking becomes, “Why bother?”
Generally, employees want to do a good job and contribute to the organization. Providing feedback, both positive and negative, helps create an atmosphere for improved performance toward established goals. Below are a few tips and sample phrases for rewarding employees.
1. Reward desired behavior immediately after it occurs.
When you reward desired behavior without delay, it has the greatest impact. Your employee is made aware that the reward is the consequence of a particular behavior. His or her attention is then focused on that behavior and its consequence. A colleague who recently switched jobs from one corporate giant to another provides an example. He gave his first major presentation to key members of the corporate staff. Following the presentation, the CEO and his supervisor immediately congratulated him on the presentation. His reaction was one of pleased surprise. At his previous position, his boss might say “good job” sometime following a presentation, but he couldn’t count on it and the compliment was often stated in general terms. After experiencing the genuine and timely compliment, he commented, “It sure does help to know what your boss likes.”
2. Reinforce the small successes.
Often we wait until employees reach the big goal before we offer meaningful praise. Instead, divide a large goal into several smaller ones so that the intermediate goals seem more achievable, then offer reinforcement along the way. Most of us appreciate periodic reinforcement—it helps motivate us to continue our efforts. When we see the smaller successes accumulated, the momentum and energy build for reaching the final goal. Sincere praise also builds an improved relationship. So look for people who are doing things right. Take a proactive stance and look for successes to reinforce.
3. Be specific in your praise.
Using assertive words, state the behavior that you liked, how you felt about it, and the consequences of that behavior. For example, note the difference between, “Corby, that was a good presentation” and “Corby, I liked your presentation; it was clear, concise, and well-prepared. I think your ideas will make a difference in the way the engineering manager makes her decision.” And finally, affirm the person with a smile or handshake. Your personal warmth often strengthens the reinforcement.
Reinforcing behavior is part of an effective management style. In fact, this is part of the theory of Management by Walking Around (MBWA). One merit of this management style is that you have an opportunity to be on the floor, observing people. It’s a rich opportunity to reinforce desirable behavior and correct undesirable behavior.
Sample Reinforcing Statements
- Thank you for taking the initiative. . . .
- I appreciate your creativity. You enlivened that presentation.
- Your appraisal of that assistant was firm but fair.
- Your writing is clear and concise. It is easy to follow.
- Your efforts to increase efficiency have reduced the workload for all of us.
Adapted from Goal Setting by Susan B. Wilson and Michael S. Dobson.