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The Fine Art of Praising Employees

On a scale of 1 to 10 -- no negative numbers allowed -- where would you rate your current or past bosses' skills at recognizing, praising, and rewarding your hard work and achievement?

Let me guess: A 2? Maybe a 3?

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

So don't create a program to praise your employees -- you don't need one. Just follow these tips to make sure you're giving them the recognition they deserve:

  • Treat employees like snowflakes. Every employee responds differently to recognition. Many appreciate public praise. Others cringe and want to run away. Recognize each employee in the way that produces the greatest impact for them.
  • Never wait. The greater the interval between performance and recognition, the lower the impact. Right away is never too soon.
  • Be specific. Generic praise is nice, but specific praise is wonderful. Don't just tell me I did a good job; tell me how I did a good job. Not only will I appreciate the gesture, I'll also know you pay attention. And I'll know exactly what to do next time, too.
  • Be sincere. This one should go without saying, but how many times have you been praised by someone who made you feel they were just checking a box on their task list? Never praise for the sake of praising -- you'll only reduce the impact when you really do mean what you say.
  • Leave out the "constructive" stuff. Many leaders can't withstand the temptation to throw in a little feedback while praising an employee. (Don't you hate the "say two positive things for every negative" guideline?) Praise and recognize; leave performance improvement opportunities for later.
  • Be proactive. Sometimes managers spend too much time looking for problems. Focus just as much on catching employees doing good things, too.
  • Try the "just because" flowers approach. Just like a surprise bouquet can make a bigger impact than Valentine's Day roses, unexpected recognition is always more powerful. Winning the weekly "great customer service" award is nice, but a surprise visit from the CEO to thank someone for winning back a client is priceless.
  • Always seek a balance. It's easy to recognize some of your best employees. (Maybe consistent recognition is one of the reasons why they're the best employees?) Find ways to share the positive feedback love. You might have to look hard to find reasons to recognize some employees, but that's okay: A little encouragement may be all a poor performer needs to turn the productivity corner.
  • Make recognition systemic: To create a culture of recognition, try starting every management meeting differently. Go around the room and have everyone share two examples of employees they recognized or praised that day. Then you get a nice bonus: Peer pressure and natural competitiveness will cause many to help their employees accomplish things worthy of praise if only so they have great stuff to report.
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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Photo courtesy flickr user 4nitsirk, CC 2.0
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