How and When to Offer Praise to Your Team to Make the Most Impact

Aug 24, 2015
8 Min Read

If you’re stingy with praise – or too effusive – it can derail your team’s productivity and engagement. There is an art to offering words of praise, and every leader needs to learn it.

There has been a lot written about the Millennial generation that grew up hearing “good job!” for nearly every achievement in their lives, whether it was coloring within the lines or winning a Nobel prize.

The result is that many of us pepper our speech with “good job!” at work, feeling that as a leader we must continually offer affirmation to everyone we see in a day. While we may believe that this is much better than being stingy with praise, the result is often the same: Workers are not motivated.

The key, experts say, is thinking about how and when is the best time to give praise. Time it right, they say, and you’ll reap the rewards of a more productive and engaged workforce. Do it wrong, and you could eventually drive team members into looking for another job.

Specifically, research results from more than 200,000 participants used in “The Carrot Principle” found that managers who were seen as giving effective recognition had lower turnover, achieved better organizational results and were seen as stronger in goal setting and accountability. Further, employees who worked for managers they believed gave them the proper recognition had better morale than those who didn’t give their managers such high marks.

Dale Carnegie Training suggests that the praise must be genuine in order to be effective. As a leader you have to stop and ask yourself if it’s really worth making a big deal out of someone simply completing a task -- or is offering praise simply a way for you to tick it off your to-do list?

At the same time, offering praise that is too generalized can backfire, and may even seem insulting to the employee because you don’t seem to truly notice what he does. Avoid saying “good job” in passing and instead offer something like, “Thank you for helping us out; you were a major factor in the success of this ______,” the training center suggests.

In “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” authors Gary Chapman and Paul White say there are different ways that people feel appreciated, such as:

  • Words of affirmation. Employees who value such words feel on top of the world when they are verbally praised for an achievement or accomplishment. “The more you can ‘catch’ a staff person doing a task in the way you want and you call attention to that specific task or behavior, the more likely that behavior is going to occur again,” the authors write. They also explain that you can focus on positive personality traits that will help such workers play to their strengths. “One of the things I admire about you is that you’re always optimistic,” is a way to show appreciation to an employee.
  • Quality time. These employees feel the most appreciated when you stop by and say, “Tell me how things are going.” While some managers may believe this means the worker wants to be buddies, the authors explain that such employees “simply wants to feel that what they are doing is significant and that their supervisor values their contribution.” When having such conversations, maintain eye contact, don’t multitask, listen and resist the urge to interrupt.
  • Acts of service. These employees have the perspective of “Don’t tell me you care; show me.” Giving them a gift can be met with indifference – because they’d rather have a little more help. By volunteering to help the person or finding someone to help (make sure it’s not someone who only gets in the way and causes the overworked employee even more headaches) a leader is making a real difference.

Darcy Jacobsen suggests that any time a leader offers words of appreciation, not only should comments be specific, but should also include the person’s name and why what he or she does makes a difference. “Mark, because of your efforts to build rapport with this client, we were able to save their account,” she suggests. You can also note the results from the effort, such as “The result of all your effort, Nina, was a 25% increase in call volume over the past month.”

Of course, you may have the best of intentions in offering words of appreciation to a worker, but when the moment comes to do it you draw a blank. If you find that’s the case, don’t just give up and walk away. Here are some standards you can draw upon when you’re not sure how to start the conversation:

  • Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise with me.
  • Your commitment to this project is second to none.
  • You have a winner’s attitude.
  • I appreciate your innovative thinking.
  • Your attention to detail puts you at the top.
  • Thank you for taking the initiative and getting it done.

The key to remember is that showing appreciation to workers is a small investment of your time – but can pay big dividends in improved morale, engagement and productivity.