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How to praise employees

Many companies see employee recognition as a program or process that can be quantified, codified, and monitored. 

That's why a lot of formal recognition programs quickly sputter and die. It's easy to spot an insincere, pro forma recognition program. Effective employee recognition is mostly art, not science.

Don't bother creating a program or a formal process to praise your employees. You don't need one. If you follow these tips, your employees will get the recognition they deserve:

Treat each employee like a snowflake. No employee responds the same to recognition. Most appreciate public praise, but some get uncomfortable when singled out, even for positive reasons. Your goal is to know your every employee so you can recognize each one in the manner that produces the greatest impact for that person.

Do it now. The longer the time period between performance and recognition, the lesser the impact. Immediately is never too soon.

Be very specific. General, all-purpose praise is nice, but specific, factual praise is great. Don't just tell an employee she did a good job; tell her how she did a good job. Not only will she appreciate the gesture, she will know you pay attention. And she'll know exactly what to do the next time a similar situation comes up. Praise is just another form of training.

Be genuine. I feel sure you've been congratulated by a boss who made you feel like doing so his duty. Never praise for the sake of praising, because you'll only reduce the impact when you really do mean what you say.

Save the tweaks for later. Many leaders give in to the temptation to throw in a little feedback while praising an employee. Praise and recognize now, and save the minor performance improvement opportunities for another time.

Be proactive. We're all trained to spot problems. Try to spend as much time finding employees who do great things.

Be unexpected. Gifts make a bigger impact when they're unexpected, and unexpected recognition is always more powerful too. A surprise visit from the CEO to thank an employee for staying late to get a shipment out makes a major impact.

Even the scales. Recognizing your best employees is easy; in fact, consistent recognition may be one the reasons they are your best employees. Spread the feedback wealth whenever you can. A little recognition and praise may be all a sub-par performer needs to shift into a higher productivity gear.

Recognize leaders who praise. To create a widespread culture of recognition, try praising the people who praise their employees. Praise reinforces behaviors, and if you want your employees to recognize each other, reinforce that behavior by pointing out how much you appreciate those who do.

Recognizing effort and achievement is self-reinforcing: When you do a better job of recognizing employees they tend to perform better -- giving you even more achievements to recognize.

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