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The 6 steps of ‘strategic praising’

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in HR Soapbox

You're doing a good job. That's a great idea. Thanks for your extra effort.

For some employees, hearing those words is better than a cash bonus. Yet, many managers can muster up such phrases only during annual reviews ... if at all.

"The number-one reason managers don't give recognition is that they don't know how," says Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees.

Teach supervisors how to give employee recognition. Studies show that "feeling appreciated" is a key reason employees stick around. Here are Nelson's six guidelines for effective praising:

1. Make it soon. Any recognition is good, but the best kind is given as soon as possible after the good performance. Example: When an HP software engineer told his supervisor that he fixed a software bug, the supervisor grabbed a banana from his lunch and gave it to the employee with a big "thank you." That created HP’s "Golden Banana" award.

2. Make it sincere. Stop guessing at what rewards people want. Ask them. Medtronic Corp. stopped giving people "stuff" for their years-of-service awards. Instead, they give days off because the company finally asked employees what they wanted.

3. Make it specific. If possible, relate the gift to the performance being rewarded. Example: Apple Computers printed different company core values on T-shirts ("Integrity," etc.) and gave them to employees who demonstrate those values.

4. Make it personal. One bank asks new hires on their first day to write on an index card the three things that motivate them (time off, lunch with the boss, Starbucks coffee, etc.). The card is then given to their supervisors, who can mold rewards around those "wants."

5. Make it positive and public. When praising employees, don't undercut it by concluding with a note of criticism. And, when possible, convey the praise in person and in public. It sends the message that this is the type of thing that gets rewarded around here.

6. Make it proactive. Teach supervisors how to be on the lookout for positive behaviors. One tactic: Managers can put the name of every staff member on their weekly "To do" list. Then, managers can cross off each name as they dole out praise that week.
Posted by Editorial at 6/8/2011 12:27 PM


There is a balance beam -- you cannot continually dole out praise and rewards to motivate, but ignore criticizing unsatisfactory performance, or you will be hard pressed to explain why the employee is being terminated or is not receiving a raise. Let's say you terminate a 55-yr.-old for unsatisfactory performance, and she says "age discrimination -- look at all these documented praises up to the about-face at termination!
Posted by: Bill at 6/8/2011 4:37 PM


I agree with Bill...praise is awesome and necessary, but so is addressing poor performance (privately, of course). The goal is for employees to know where they stand with the company, i.e., the "best" terminations are those that are no surprise to the person being terminated.
Posted by: HR Gorilla at 6/9/2011 11:04 AM


Each week when you get to Friday if it is the same name that hasn't been crossed off yet, you've also identified where you weakest employee is.
Posted by: BRP at 6/9/2011 11:23 AM


It's a matter of management doing their job correctly. If Jane is doing half her job well, she can be praised on that part. If she's doing half poorly, she should be talked to about that part and provided a plan for improvement. The two should NOT be given at the same time. Just because someone builds widgets really fast and deserves praise for that doesn't mean their lack of filing paperwork for those widgets should be overlooked.
Posted by: CYA at 6/9/2011 11:26 AM


I spent much time making the work place a pleasant place to be. Had lunches, brought flowers, wrote thank you cards. Then one day I had to confront an employee regarding bad behavior. The following day, when I was absent from work, the whole crew came together to and wrote a petition against me. Though we have come through this, I have a hard time going the extra mile. It seems the more you give the less appreciated it is.
Posted by: RLJ at 6/9/2011 11:37 AM


It's painfully obvious from the comments above, that "criticizing", "addressing", and "identifying" are the main tools of manangers. Stratigic Praising is a proactive way of inproving morale and performance in large and small groups. The idea is to "look for the POSITIVE" not to accentuate the negative. Yes, performance issues need to be 'addressed' in a timely fashion, however they need not be done in a destructive way. Constructive criticism of a bad behavior or performance goes a lot futher and provides better results that destructive managing.
Posted by: SJM at 6/9/2011 11:52 AM


Great Information! Thanks!!
Posted by: Mary Ellen Turk at 6/9/2011 12:08 PM

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