Are you honoring the wrong things?
Some think giving too much praise makes people lazy and indulgent. They’ll settle into the notion your organization is lucky to have them.
Choose praise points carefully. Praise creates culture.
You get what you praise. Saying, “great job,” celebrates a completion and allows recipients to define “great.” Praising completions makes people feel they’ve arrived.
Honor progress and process more than completion.
It’s all about the journey.
Rather than saying, “You’re great,” highlight the fact that they stayed late to help their team meet a deadline.
Honor behaviors connected to values, mission, and vision. Honor behaviors that create results.
Honor and explain the impact of behaviors on other employees. Don’t say, “Great job.” Say, “Mary is encouraged and our safety record is preserved when you keep your area clean.”
Jack Welch said, “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act.”
Honoring behaviors more than completions gives people courage to repeat desirable behaviors.
Honor and explain the impact of behaviors on the company. Say, “When you leave your station to help Bill it keeps the line moving and helps us surpass quota.”
Honor the energy and effort that got the task done.
If you’re concerned that “too” much appreciation makes people over confident and lazy, start honoring the right things. Honor hard work, collaboration, support, service… the things you value and want to see more of.
Honor fuels fires; be sure you’re fueling the right ones.
Celebrate victories too:
Honoring behaviors and attitudes that create wins inspires more behaviors that create wins. On the other hand, keep honoring the wins too.
How do you use praise to motivate desirable behaviors?
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Dan: I am a big fan of your work. This post resonated profoundly as it is important to communication, leadership and our ability to retrain our brains and help our staff focus in a way that takes them forward faster and better.
Learning how to focus, to communicate in a way that drives not only great engagement but encourages confidence, transparency of communication and a solution focus is so critical.
Thanks for a great post!
Very best, Irene
You note is a great Saturday pick-me-up. Thank you.
I’ve found we focus on the end so much that we don’t appreciate the process.
Have a great weekend,
Dan: Thank you so much for your very kind note. I have to tell you that a while ago you told me I was a “people lifter” and your sage reflection was really important for me, my work and picked me up!
I am a big fan of your work, and want to thank you for a leadership footprint that is outstanding!
Yours in service, Irene
Dan, your faithfulness in bringing excellent leadership teaching to your blogs helps people’s lives. Who knows how many organizations benefit because a leader from within that organization receives daily useful wisdom from reading this blog? Well done. I personally am enriched because of your commitment and ability to communicate truths that are pertinent to leader’s lives.
I lead in a volunteer capacity, and just put on a weekend retreat for 50 women from my church and community. I took on way too much and organized the event, wrote the retreat material, did most of the shopping and oversaw the details. However, I also had a wonderful team, most of whom were new to my leadership style, and of course the event would have never happened or certainly would have flopped without them.
I am in the process of writing thank you notes to my team, and so am reading this post at a very practical moment. Thinking of the notes I have completed, and looking ahead to finishing the job, I think that I am celebrating the value of the contribution of each person to the success of the event. But I am also celebrating who they are, their individual giftedness and the fact that they are using those gifts to serve God and bless people. I’m glad for their growth as people and saying out loud what a joy it is to know them and experience their lives.
I’m flagging this post to reread, because as a volunteer leading volunteers, this input is extremely valuable to me. Thank you again.
I think this phrase sums it up best: “Honoring behaviors more than completions gives people courage to repeat desirable behaviors.”
We deal with the same thing in education and working with gifted children. Telling a kid how smart they are rarely helps the child. Especially because “smart” is a subjective and nebulous term, one that children often don’t have the emotional maturity to really weigh. It also tends to add stress and put them on a pedestal they fear to fall from. Instead of empowering kids as intended, praising good work as “smarts” can actually take from their self-confidence. Some kids, no matter how gifted, begin to fear failure and would rather not try something more difficult at all, than to try and fail and no longer be “smart” as a result. The problem is, “smart” is really a label for potential, not necessarily actualized potential. When looking at it from the idea of praising the potential of a person, we begin to see it doesn’t make as much sense.
Even I can find it uncomfortable when someone says something like, “You’re such a clever person.” Maybe I had a clever idea during a meeting, but to label me as “clever” instead of my idea makes me wonder what will happen if the next thing out of my mouth is “dumb.” Or what if I’m expected to deliver “clever” ideas all the time. Just because I had an idea everyone liked once doesn’t mean I can deliver perfect ideas everyone likes all the time. Then I might start thinking about keeping my mouth shut to avoid judgement. Praising “success” is another label that is rather subjective and kind of nebulous to pin down. The word means many things to many people.
Praising hard work, on the other hand, does not have this impact. Encouraging a child to be proud of their hard work helps encourage more initiative.
I would add that honoring the behavior and completion can also be good. “You worked very hard all year, took good notes and studied and now you have earned a spot in the top % of the school. All your hard work and good habits paid off! Congratulations, it’s well earned!”
This kind of scenario is just as real in adulthood, as it is childhood and your post sums it up well.
As you noted Dan, honor honest effort and process, less so end product or outcomes…(can celebrate those certainly–again tied to the effort and as a marker for next steps.)
In the same vein, honor and respect honest failure and celebrate lessons learned from those failures. Fundamental to a healthy culture, continuous improvement is highly valued. Expect, be public about, mistakes. Last time I checked, we are not perfect so it may follow that our processes are not perfect which means we can always get better. Didn’t Howard Jones sing about that!?
I think it’s almost impossible to praise too much, especially if you’re honest about shortfalls at the point they occur. I was taught to be hard on performance, soft on people. Because I feel free to say,”We need to fix that” as often as necessary, I also feel free to say “Good work” or even “Wow, that’s amazing” as many times.
Dan-I just joined your daily blog about a week ago. I signed up because someone had posted something from your blog on facebook that I liked quite a bit. I have officially unsubscribed because of your post tonight.
“Some think giving too much praise makes people fat and lazy”. You are clearly a poor leader if you wouldn’t think twice about writing something like this on a blog. It is an ignorant statement.
Being that I’m a senior vice president at GE and you’ve quoted our former leader, you must respect Jack. I am fat and I am far from lazy. Not many people can make it to the level I’m at and certaintly not someone lazy. I know working in a high stress environment 80 hours a week at a desk, traveling 50% of the time has both led me to be successful and has contributed to me being fat.
Update your blog before too many people see it who think you are a leader and will think its okay to equate fat with lazy. You’ll miss out on some really good people
Thanks for calling me out. You have my apologies and I modified the statement.
When I read or hear the phrase, “fat and lazy,” it resonates as a figure of speech, not a literal statement. I sincerely doubt Mr. Rockwell was commenting on anyone’s stature.
Wow! I’m a middle management leader and I’m surprised an exec. would be offended and then express it on a blog. Hmmm? I guess it prooves we can learn no matter what level of leadership we hold. I’m trying to determine if I’m the one that has something to learn from this. Dan I appreciate your post.
The Sr VP from GE made a critical logical error and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. You didn’t say fat people are lazy, you said too much praise makes people fat and lazy. I’d say the exec tries to hard to be sure everyone knows she isn’t lazy.
Sounds to me like Mz GE has a chip on her shoulder and an arrogance to match. Your writing was fine and you owed her no apology. She should humble herself and work on a little work-life balance, but like so many who reach her level, humility is forgotten. I hope she looks back at her rant and is embarrassed.
Hi Dan, I know this is not the purpose of your post but since so many in the community have “reacted” I feel compelled to add my two cents. Personally I applaud the GE VP for her courage to address her interpretation of the comment “fat and lazy.” I wholeheartedly praise you my friend for your response indicating your conviction ( which is mine as well) that your intended meaning does not supersede the one perceived. That folks is leadership at its best!
I agree. Intended meaning is more important than perceived meaning. Clarifying your mistake is the mark of true leadership.
This is great Dan. As a project manager I often lead multi-year efforts. If you don’t give praise along the way in those, you are failing your team. If you don’t show appreciation for team member’s work, you kill motivation and make the project a grind. In contrast, honest appreciation can fuel a team. If nothing else, it can help keep the mood convivial.
I’ve seen several instances where the team’s effort was great, but due to factors outside of the team’s control, outcomes were not. Failing to recognize the effort in these cases can be devastating, but from my experience it appears to be common. Good luck getting those teams to go the extra mile the next time around.
I am called to weigh in on this blog post. You always hit the mark of truth for me, but this one is so fundamental.
You say “Praise creates Culture – choose praise points carefully.”
As a culture expert, I am continuously surprises by executives often want a “magic wand” to engage their people or create a culture that is friendly to change.
But in the end, organizations don’t change – people do. And as far as I can tell, people don’t change because leaders want them to. They change when they can tap into the purposeful internal motivation that makes them want to do more. If there were a magic wand for a great corporate culture, get to know your people and what makes them tick, and you’ll find out what magic happens.
This to me is the simple argument for what you’re writing – if you want your organization to get different results, focus on shining the spotlight on the efforts that create those results. Like a tree grows toward the light, people will reach toward “what is really expected to succeed around here.” That clarity is like sunlight and water to today’s burned out, change-fatigued, priority-of-the-month organizations.
However, in my mind there’s an even more fundamental reason to do this: Every single human being wants to be seen, heard, understood – and counted. Praise isn’t about making people soft; most of us don’t receive enough of it in our lives. It’s a great way to connect as human beings. But when praise is an insincere or inauthentic attempt to manipulate someone to increase productivity, it won’t work.
Consider real grass v. artificial turf – “turf” looks a lot like grass, but your feet always know the difference.
People always know the difference between a leader who genuinely wants to help people grow and a leader who’s trying to grow their bottom line by applying the latest psychology or engagement technique.
I have to say firstly, Dan, your apology is felt by all of us who are overweight and/or obese. It is not always a sign of lazyness, even though it can be. I myself am a mid level manager and a multiple university graduate at postgraduate level. I do not think of myself as lazy, but I know that other people think that I am, given my weight. I would also congratulate the GE executive for calling you out on it, as it is a statement that can be misinterpreted. (Not that I thought you were being discrimintory, I did not.)
I am concerned, though, that others who have commented here have obviously never felt the sting of stigma or the additional pressures that prejudice put on capable people. While some call this a “rant” and and think the comment needs to be withdrawn, I say not – I would think that this executive has to work over and above other colleagues to be considered their equal – the proverbial glass ceiling is still in place, and there for many reasons.
My guess is that the persons who object to your apology have never hit it. I love your blog and I feel myself growing as a leader everytime I read one of your posts. Keep it up!
Thanks for joining the conversation. I love the dynamic exchange on my blog. Over the last year and a half I’ve learned so much. Only once have I deleted a comment someone left because I thought it was out of line.
I love this conversation because it’s part of what people care about. I don’t mean to say that I love offending people. But I do love learning and I do love listening to others, or in this case reading what others add.
Sure, this conversation is a bit off topic, but sometimes that happens in a community. The fact that I approved the initial comment that called me out reflects my approach to be open and interested in others. Many of the long-term readers and commenters on LF have disagreed with me well before this. It’s a journey that I find invigorating.
Your statement that praise creates culture is so true. We use to have an annual meeting which was intented to be fun and lighthearted. We gave out silly awards for silly things. Someone poiinted out that we were recognizing these things in a very public manner but not the things that really mattered to the company. As a result everyone was competing to be in the silly contest.
We still give the lighthearted, silly awards but we balance that with a second meeting each year in which we are very public about recognizing the contributions to our goals and values.
Great story. Thanks for shining the light on an important idea.
Success to you,