Using Praise To Motivate Staff

We had an interesting question on one of our open management courses recently. The activity was about staff motivation, and a delegate asked what she could do when she had no money for bonuses to recognise the input from high-performing staff.

She noted that praise and recognition was a good motivator for some, but she didn’t know how to use it effectively, beyond the usual ‘thanks for a good job’. Could any of the delegates help her, please?

The comments were backed up by other delegates, so we came up with a checklist that would support this very important leadership aspect of motivation within the workplace.

We all know that affirmation is a key principle in our self-worth. We all like to feel we have made a difference in some way, and when our efforts are recognised by our peers and management, it boosts our self-esteem and our self confidence.

Here’s a quick checklist to ensure your praise and recognition of your team’s efforts is carried out correctly and effectively:

Find something to praise in every team member: This will help you focus on looking for the good, rather than always looking to find fault.

Do it spontaneously, but only if it is deserved: You have to maintain credibility with staff. Praising them for getting back from lunch on time is seldom seen as boosting self-esteem; praise has to be a reward for success or accomplishment. You lose respect and credibility if praise is seen as patronising.

Praise specifically: Tell people what you liked about the job they did. Rather than ‘Well done for that’, say ‘I thought they way you handled that call was excellent. You really kept your cool under pressure’.

Praise for skill development: If you are looking for the team member to improve in a particular skill, look out for opportunities to praise that skill. A small amount, given often, will subliminally affect the team member for the positive.

Praise effort, not just achievement: This will help people see that their efforts are being noted, even if they don’t always succeed.

Praise individually and in public: Letting others know how well someone did will encourage the team to support the individual and drive them to higher levels of effort. Be careful, though, that the reasons are given for the praise, so jealousy doesn’t set in with some.

Show praise in a variety of ways: A quick hand-written note, a non-verbal nod and smile, a mention in the newsletter or on the intranet are also ways that praise can be shown.

Don’t use praise to cover over a criticism: ‘Well done on that call, Phil, but watch out for raising your voice when you’re frustrated’. Phil will only remember the criticism there. So don’t try and soften any critical remarks with praise; separate them out, or your team member will become suspicious of any praise you give in the future.

Praising, then, is a skill that is simple, inexpensive and inexhaustible. It can have a ripple effect on people, who subconsciously look for other ways of creatively carrying out the work that was noticed. Remember, praise needs to be given in the right way, at the right time and for the right reasons.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   | Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo

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