Anyone can praise, but only great managers do it in a way that hits to the core.
Below are four simple rules to follow:
- Break the norm.
- Do it one-on-one.
- Specific and outcome-based.
- Tie it to a reward.
1. Break the norm.
When do you expect to be praised and by whom? Typically, you can see praise coming from your manager or peers, and usually as part of "shout-outs" at a team meeting or in a check-in. You might expect some praise after an observation or after submitting a deliverable. The key to breaking the norm is to deliver the praise when it's least expected and, perhaps, from a source they wouldn't normally get it from.
For example, how might a teacher feel who normally receives praise from their direct manager or peers if the Principal shows up in their classroom unexpectedly to deliver praise? Or what if a dean who normally gets praise from a school leader receives a note from a student or teacher? Praise outside the norm for more impact.
2. Do it one-on-one.
Group praise is good. One-on-one praise is better. Nothing elevates praise like getting it one-on-one, eye-to-eye, from someone you respect. Why?
When I receive praise as part of a team or a group, I'm more likely to assume the praise is meant for someone else or that my part was smaller than perhaps it actually was in achieving the success. One-on-one praise makes it crystal clear.
3. Specific and outcome-based.
"Great job" is the enemy of effective praise. "Great job" for what exactly? And what made it "great?" Powerful praise identifies:
- Specifically what the person did or how they are
- What the impact of their behavior was
If any part of this is missing, the praise lacks impact.
Bad example: "Great job in the meeting today."
Great example: "Nice job summarizing those data points in the team meeting today. I thought you nailed it. You covered all of the key points but made the summaries relatable. Good job."
4. Tie it to a reward.
Ever heard of the Five Love Languages? Don't bail on me yet. The concept is simple but powerful: people appreciate being rewarded in a specific way, and yet we all have the tendency to reward others in the way WE like to be rewarded. The five ways are:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Acts of service
- Physical Touch
Praising verbally is one thing, and will meet the needs of the sliver of staff who thrive on "words of affirmation." But tying verbal praise to a reward takes it to ninja-level.
Does your staff member appreciate quality time? Take them to coffee. Acts of service? Stand in for them in a meeting or teach their class so they can do something else. Gifts? This one's easy -- a gift card or something more meaningful like a framed picture of the team with handwritten notes can go a long way. Even physical touch can be done by combining the verbal praise with a high-five, pat on the back, or fist bump.
Oh, and how do you know which one they prefer? Ask them. Better yet, make it a teambuilder at your next team meeting:
"What is your preferred reward and why?"
Praise can be a game-changer for boosting morale and performance. If you're going to do it, might as well make it stick.