There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise. Mary Kay Ash
This quote makes you think, right?
Now listen to this: According to a study developed by Great Place to Work, a genuine “thank you” can increase the likelihood of employees bringing extra effort into their work by 69%. And, when employees feel recognized, they are 2.2x more likely to bring new ideas forward and be innovative.
Studies have shown the impact praise has on a team’s performance. Yet, most employees don’t feel their efforts and work are frequently recognized.
So, what is setting back managers from doing it?
Praising is perhaps simpler than you think and more valuable than you might consider. In this article, we will dive deeper into how to motivate employees, focusing on easy strategies to make this a key part of your workflow.
Nearly everyone is trying their best to achieve their goals.
This is often overlooked, so take the time to read that again. As a leader, it is extremely common to find yourself in a place where you are hyper-focused on your team’s results and what their work should look like versus what it is currently looking like. Therefore, you are more attuned to the mistakes and the flaws in their tasks than to their learning process and motivation.
Although forgetting that your employees are trying their best and that most have good intentions is somewhat common, the consequences can be devastating – the lack of recognition negatively impacts your team's productivity and their willingness to keep up the good work.
So, when you face the dilemma of whether or not you should try and praise someone, when in reality you are just looking to correct them, realize this: Through praising, you can boost your team’s motivation while ensuring they stay on the “right” path. According to O.C.Tanner, 70% of employees are motivated to stay at their current organisation longer, if they receive positive feedback.
How to motivate employees by praising
To know how to motivate employees as a manager, you must acknowledge that your words have power. They can either crush down someone or make them feel valued and motivated – always choose the latter.
When you praise your employees, you can increase their satisfaction and eagerness to keep on doing what was praised. It also boosts their confidence and improves their performance. So it ends up being a win-win situation: You get your team to perform better results, and they get to feel more confident and motivated.
Now, praising can be tricky - if it is done at a surface level or with sugar-coated words, it can backfire, particularly affecting the trust they have in you. Here is a framework on how to praise for great results:
Choose the right time
There is no one-size-fits-all but as a rule of thumb, you should praise every time chance you get to and as close to the event as possible. This helps you give recognition more frequently. You can even take it a step further by integrating feedback and praise into every workflow. If you do this, you will not have to worry so much about the timing, as it will all be part of the process and it will easily become a new work habit.
Be aware not to praise too soon. Make sure the task is done and only then value their work and efforts.
Another matter to consider is whether you do it privately or in front of the whole team. To make this decision you should consider your employee's personality and the relevance of the issue for the team.
Be direct and specific
When praising, always look to describe a specific action and not a general personality trait. That is because you want to work with what can be improved and not with what is innate to each employee. The more specific you are, the greater the chance of positive change.
Here are a few good examples:
- Praising for performance
- Don’t: “Mark, you did an outstanding presentation today. I am really impressed. Nice work!”
- Do: “Mark, that presentation you gave today was extremely challenging, and I can tell you put a lot of extra effort into it. The solution you came up with to visually represent the data was outstanding. Nice work!”
- Praise for leadership
- Don’t: “Lauren, I really appreciate the calm attitude you have adopted. You help us from losing one of our best clients.”
- Do: “Lauren, the calm and confident attitude you displayed during last week’s crisis was a game-changer. You helped the team focus on finding solutions for the client and fixing the process, instead of engaging in the blame game. You played a vital role in saving the company from losing one of its best clients.”
- Praise for problem-solving skills
- Don’t: “Sarah, thank you for helping us resolve the technical issue today.”
- Do: “Sarah, your dedication to resolving the technical issue we faced this afternoon led to a delighted customer and positive feedback. Good job and thank you!”
- Praise for project management
- Don’t: “Francis, I really appreciate the effort you are making for this project – keep it up, so far the results have been great!”
- Do: “Francis, your capacity to multitask, while maintaining clear communication and direction, showcased your exceptional project management skills – the results of this project have been phenomenal. Keep up the excellent work!”
Catch them doing something right
Look for the positives in what your team is doing. Learn to be intentional and aware. There is nothing more powerful than an employee realizing that you saw one of their achievements and recognized them for it.
As mentioned above, one effective way to ensure you notice and praise is to design your workflows to fluidly integrate feedback and praise. You can do this by resorting to a digital platform, where attributing tasks and giving feedback are unavoidable steps of every workflow. The key point is that your employees will be looking forward to those moments - feedback will not come as a surprise and praise will be something they look up to.
Make it a habit
For praise to work as an effective way to keep your team motivated and productive, you should say it frequently. As Martin Thorborg mentions: “People don’t start to get what you say until you have repeated it so much that you are sick of hearing yourself saying it!”
According to Matt Mochary, it takes about 4 to 8 interactions for your employees to feel that you genuinely appreciate them. And if you think about it, it may take longer for the ones that suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Be patient and do not be afraid to repeat yourself.
It is only when your team feels that you appreciate them that you are in the right place to focus on the things you wish they would do differently. Although praising can be delivered in person or virtually – for example, via a chat message – this next phase of feedback should be done exclusively in person.
Praising is one of the key ingredients on how to motivate employees. As a leader, you should keep in mind that by valuing what they do right, your teams’ results can get to the next level faster than if you are simply correcting them.
When praising someone remember this:
- Choose the right time – give praise as close to the event as possible;
- Be direct and specific – make them understand why exactly you are praising them;
- Catch them doing something right;
- Make it a habit – repeat, repeat and repeat.