Praise the right way

How To Praise People The Right Way

How to Praise People The Right Way

Praise and recognition are powerful reinforcement mechanism that drives human behavior. Saying, “Thank you” means, “Please repeat that specific behavior again.”

A survey of more than 200,000 managers and employees over a 10-year period documented in the book The Carrot Principle showed that “purpose-based recognition” is a proven way to engage your employees, reduce staff turnover, boost productivity, and increase customer satisfaction.

What’s more, they found that companies that praise and recognize their employees in an effective manner are more profitable.

Praise and recognition are most effective when they meet the following criteria:

Focus on the positive

Remembering a person’s past negative behaviors and speaking about how much better they have become is not recommended. This is not the time to bring up past errors. For your praise to have maximum effect, just point out their positive behaviors.

  • Incorrect: “You used to be a real pain in the ass to work with, but you’ve been a lot nicer lately”
  • Better: “I appreciate the effort you made to show a genuine interest in other people’s opinions”

Praise immediately

Catch people doing things right, and let them know straight away. The sooner you link the praise to when the actual performance occurred, the better. If you can’t praise someone at the time, make a note to mention it at your next 1 on 1 meeting. Don’t wait until their next formal performance review.

Praise every 7 days (minimum)

Gallup research suggests that you praise your team members for doing something right at least once every 7 days if you want to increase employee engagement and motivation. Frequency matters.

Give context to your praise 

Make your praise purpose-based. Praise people who demonstrate behaviors aligned with your company’s Core Values. Praise people for making progress on their Projects and Tasks. Praise people for achieving the “green level of performance” on your Metrics (Key Performance Indicators).

Share your praise with their peers

Make sure their peers overhear you delivering your praise. If you are on a virtual team make sure to copy their peers on the message of your praise being delivered. Let the whole team know when someone is doing a good job.

We usually think of praise and recognition as coming from the manager, but interestingly, it is recognition from peers that often means the most to people. Praising people in front of their peers multiplies the effect of your praise.

Praise people the right way

Research published in the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success found there is a right way and a wrong way to praise people.

If we praise a person’s ability, they can develop a “fixed mindset” which discourages learning and makes people fear failure. This can hinder their success in life.

Labels can be self-fulfilling. If it is a negative label (e.g. “You are no good at math”), the person can become discouraged and give up trying to improve. If it is a positive label, (e.g. “You are smart”) the person can become scared to tackle difficult challenges in case they fail, and instead just play it safe in life and stick to the things they find easy.

A superior approach is to praise the effort that led to the outcome. Don’t just praise the effort, that’s a mistake many managers (and parents) make when they learn about this approach. The outcome is important too. Praise the effort that led to the outcome. This helps people develop a “growth mindset” which encourages learning and builds resilience to failure.

  • Incorrect: “You are really smart”
  • Better: “Well done for sticking at the problem until you solved it”
  • Incorrect: “You always deliver”
  • Better: “Thanks for running a tight process to get the project done on time”
  • Incorrect: “Great work”
  • Better: “I like how you handled that customer objection. It was a great example of living our core value to support our customers to be successful.”

The research showed that the “growth mindset” approach is the best way to praise and coach your children as well.

Is there someone in your life you need to praise, the right way, right now?


Until next time…