Specific, Actionable and Authentic Praise

Continuing on the theme of my last post, giving praise is not only necessary and critical to employee performance and company success, it is also truly an art as Steven DeMaio discussed in a post to his Harvard Business Blog.

Steven offers solid advice in his post, particularly around what I call specific, actionable and authentic praise.

Specific praise goes far beyond a generic “great job” to make recognition truly meaningful. With specific praise, you tell the recipient what they did, how that behavior/effort reflected the company values, and why it was important to the team/department/company or contributed to achieving strategic objectives. Such specific praise makes it…

Actionable and repeatable. By giving employees such specific recognition, you clearly communicate what is important and encourage them to repeat those actions in the future. For employees to want to repeat such desired behaviors, however, your praise and recognition must be …

Authentic. Don’t fall into the compliment sandwich trap – “Great job on that task, but you forgot this one critical step. I know you you’ll get it next time as you are so conscientious!” This is a confusing message to employees. Did they really do a good job if an important step was missed? Offer constructive criticism, which is itself desired by employees, separate from praise for work well done.

What other tips do you have for effective and powerful praise or recognition?

5 comment(s):

At January 07, 2010 10:49 AM, Susan Mazza said...

Great! Thanks for linking to this over on my blog.

At April 26, 2010 6:44 PM, Landon Creasy said...

Great post - too many of us fall into the sandwich method of feedback. It has its place in specific counseling for poor performance but should certainly left behind in the day to day operations of your team. On that note, too many of our policies and procedures deal with poor performance; can you imagine where we could go if that dynamic was reversed?

At April 27, 2010 9:55 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Couldn't agree more, Landon. In fact, Gallup issued an interesting study on this point finding that managers who focus on employee strengths have 61% engaged employees and 1% actively disengaged; managers who focus on employee weaknesses have 45% engaged employees and 22% actively disengaged; but managers who ignore their employees have 2% engaged employees and 40% actively disengaged.

I reference this research and discuss the findings more in depth in this post: http://globoforce.blogspot.com/2009/11/strengths-weaknesses-ignored-how-are.html

At May 20, 2010 11:00 PM, Dr. Linne Bourget MA MBA Ph.D. said...

Great topic and posts, Derek, found you on the World at Work site. I started appreciative leadership as a field in the '70s and was and am still amazed at how powerful highly skillful perceptive appreciation is for results, esprit de corps and productivity.

The first management team I worked with in this way went from fear to excitment in 20 mins. flat, on one appreciation I gave the manager.

Every leader should have the skill of being able to perceive, appreciate and apply strengths to every aspect of their business, e. g. Strengths-based planning, delegation, teams/meetings, major change, M&A, startups, endings, etc. I built all these systems over the years. It is great for the consultant as well as for the leaders and employees. I still have to have great problem-solving skills (I work accross 9 fields of knowledge) but my main job is to see clients' greatness and teach them how to apply it for FAST fun results. All these years of doing this work transformed me and my life too--what a gift!

So glad to see appreciation is now mainstreamed--I was criticized for doing my Ph.D. dissertation on appreciation and change--just too early. I kept on despite lack of support (except from Warren Bennis) because I saw the great results for clients and serving them was most important to me.

Landon is right..the sandwich method of feedback, so touted on Wikipedia, is deadly and damaging.

Dr. Linne Bourget MA MBA Ph.D.
"Dr. Appreciation"
Fortune 10, 50, 100 Consultant
Economist, behavioral scientist,
leadership futurist, speaker, strategist. Author, Positive Leadership Series under the What You Say Is What You Get(R) Trademark--40 books, e-books, articles.

At May 21, 2010 8:01 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Dr. Bourget, thank you very much for adding your insights. I was stunned by your statement of being criticized for your choice of thesis topic. We've come a long way in the industry, I do believe, and I attribute that from switching the focus from the "prize" (the reward) to the "praise" (the recognition and appreciation of behaviors and actions that reflect company values/objectives).

I also really appreciate what you say about how your work in this industry has changed your own life. Isn't that true of recognition? The more you show appreciation to others, the more your own attitude and approach to work also change for the better? I believe it was Gallup research that pointed this out specifically as an additional benefit of encouraging recognition in organizations.

Thanks again for your comment. I hope to see your comments on future posts. Your expert insights are greatly appreciated.