How to Harness
the Power of Praise
By Ron Kaufman
Some managers claim
the best way to motivate staff is through the wallet: increase pay,
expand allowances or give more cash incentives. While money is
certainly useful, it is not the
only key to human motivation. In the current economic
climate, learning how to harness the power of praise also enables
you to reward and retain staff without putting a big dent in your
can mean a lot more to your staff than just another dollar in the
bank. A genuine pat on the back, given at the right time, in the
right way, for the right reasons – and in front of the right people
– will boost staff morale and commitment in ways that money never
Make a difference
with these four steps to building the long-term morale of your team.
from everyone’s mistakes:
people for a job well done, assure your staff they won’t be
crucified if things end up poorly. In an environment of
challenge and growth, people must try things they’ve never done
before. And they will make mistakes. In a healthy and rewarding
culture, people are encouraged to
learn from their
mistakes, and then quickly regroup and rebuild.
You should work
with employees to understand what went wrong, rectify the situation
and then improve the approach. Attack the problem, not the people
involved. Ask your team aloud: ‘What can be learned from this
mistake? What can be improved? Who else should we inform so they can
benefit from the learning, too?’ Many companies have rituals for
celebrating success and achievements, and that’s good. But it’s the
mistake no one hears about (and others blindly repeat) that can pull
you to the bottom.
Start your next
meeting by sharing the biggest mistake you’ve made in the past two
weeks. Explain what you learned from the experience. Then ask others
for their ideas, listen to feedback and thank those who offer their
opinions. By taking the lead and sharing your mistakes, you will
demonstrate a willingness to learn and encourage a culture of
sharing and honest communication.
What about staff
who make no mistakes? Either they are very good at hiding what is
really going on or they are not being challenged enough. The person
who only makes small, safe and bureaucratic moves does not innovate
or grow. In today’s turbulent markets, this is not what you need to
appraisal criteria clear:
Make sure your
staff understands how they will be appraised for raises, bonuses and
promotions. Whether you evaluate yearly or monthly, openly or behind
closed doors, in writing or in dialogue, one-way, two-way or 360
degrees, your staff must clearly understand the criteria for their
standards of appraisal during the initial hiring process, explain it
again during new employee orientation, and clarify the process
consistently in staff meetings, newsletters and executive forums.
After you have published these ‘rules of the game’, keep the playing
field fair. Meritocracy demands unprejudiced assessment. Nothing
dooms staff morale faster than watching an incompetent who ‘takes
care of the boss’ move up the ladder while capable staff languish in
Ask yourself: ‘Are
the criteria for staff evaluations made clear? Are they openly
explained and discussed so that all parties can achieve and succeed?
Is the process of evaluation fair-minded?’ If your answers are yes,
keep moving forward. If your answers are no or maybe, tackle those
issues now. If you are not sure of the answers, check with those
whose opinions really count: your staff. Conduct a survey, take a
poll, ask for immediate feedback.
If the staff says your system of appraisal is unclear or less than
fair, you’d better be ready to change it. Even more discouraging
than an unfair process of evaluation is an unfair process of
evaluation that persists after the staff have given you their honest
opinions about it.
Encourage career development:
Make sure the
conversation about career development is always open. Provide high
performing staff members with a boss, mentor, counselor or human
resource person who cares about their professional growth and
Show you care about
your staff members’ future possibilities and potential, not just
their current results and past achievements. Help the staff
understand the competencies required for a more successful future.
Chart career progressions that are achievable and realistic.
Provide easy access
to courses, seminars and conferences. Subscribe to useful
publications and circulate them to your team. Share websites, e-zines
and articles of interest. Build a library of books, catalogues, CDs,
videos and other career-building resources.
opportunities for learning without spending money
outside your organization by cross-training staff
inside. Use team rosters
and re-assignments to integrate neighboring departments. Create
cross-departmental teams to work on cross-functional projects. Put
these career development plans into action and watch your staff’s
confidence – and competence – grow.
powerful rewards and meaningful recognition:
in-house reward and recognition programs to reinforce the company
culture. Most rewards are handed down from the top: management
praises staff, supervisor recognizes team member, boss applauds the
workers. Why stop there? Start a ‘Bottom-Up’ award for staff to
recognize their leaders. You set the budget, but allow staff to
select the winners, the reasons for winning and the appropriate
‘peer pressure’ on a group and
individual basis. Ask each department or team to select
and publicly recognize another group for their effort, improvement
or support. This encourages cross-functional appreciation,
understanding and cooperation.
Ask each staff
member to nominate one or two role models from among their peers.
Ask for specific reasons supporting each nomination. Then praise the
role models and publicize the specific reasons to reinforce those
values and behaviors.
Invite customers to
participate in your staff recognition programs. Put easy-to-use
nomination forms at key points of customer contact. Set up a hotline
for customers to call with compliments or complaints.
And get your
suppliers involved, too. Query them by phone, e-mail or in person.
Thank them for their votes and send them a copy of the praise you
will share with your staff.
remember to reward the rewarders! Provide recognition for managers
who excel at recognizing the members of their team.
Use these four
steps to conduct a ‘recognition audit’ inside your organization.
List all the ways your people get appreciated, noticed and rewarded.
Sort into categories: individual and group, financial and
non-financial, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, from managers and
peers, from customers and suppliers, privately and in public,
lavishly and simply, in writing and in person, long running awards
and brand new awards.
If a category is
empty or shallow, get creative with your team and fill them up!
It takes energy
and commitment to deliver consistently uplifting service. Praise is
the spark that lights the fire. Frequent recognition is the fuel
that keeps the fire burning. Use plenty of both to keep the climate
warm for staff – and the customers they serve.
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