Hungry for Praise
We all know that one positive and successful technique to motivate staff is to give them positive feedback and praise. As referenced in “Middle Performers,” staff who are not performing at their best often can benefit from boosts of support and positive feedback. On our Coleman team, we refer to this as giving specific, genuine, and timely praise. These three words undergird the most successful performance feedback styles.
In my first health center job, I worked with a physician who would come and go each day. In the mornings, he would walk in he would mumble amusingly “back to the salt mine.” I didn’t really get what he was saying, because I was new in my role at the health center and I felt every day that I was making a difference. But as time went on, it became easy to see how the “back to the salt mine” mentality can creep into one’s thoughts. Every day you rise early, get ready, roll into work to do your best (either with direct patient care or as a necessary part of the support staff team). You do your job, go home, and get ready to do it all again tomorrow. In healthcare, while you know you are making a difference, it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes it just feels like you are “back to the salt mine.”
I don’t know of any employees who can brag that they get too much specific, genuine, or timely praise from their boss for their work. Nor is it true that managers should spend their entire workdays focused on praising staff. Typically managers are in a unique position to give praise that carries additional weight (over the praise given by peers), and that boosts employees’ sense of self and encourages them to see that their work contributions are valuable to the organization (David Cottrell in Monday Morning Leadership is one of the many authors who refers to this activity as filling someone’s bucket).
Specific: In order for praise to be heard, it has to reconcile with what employees believe they have accomplished. In order for praise to encourage repeat, positive performance, it has to be specific enough to tap into employees’ sense of recognition and awareness around the specific activity that should be repeated. This is why vague praise, while better than negative feedback, often falls short; “a good job” leaves out the specifics and could mean that all aspects of the job were done well. This leaves employees with a lack of clarity around the behavior that is being recognized, and leaves them feeling that their work wasn’t really noticed. On the other hand, feedback that highlights ‘a good effort producing specific x, y, or z result with a, b, or c client/patient and on that specific day…’ is both relatable and replicable.
Genuine: While the look and feel of genuine praise may be a tough picture to paint, it is one that is easy to identify when it is seen. Genuineness looks different on different people but it comes across in the tone of voice, cadence of communication, and enthusiasm of message, as well as eye contact and general body language. And, because we have so many different cultures, styles and backgrounds in the workplace, a genuine response cannot be prescribed in micro detail, but is relatable across all cultures. In order for a message to be felt as genuine, it must be genuine to not only to the praise giver but also to the praise receiver.
When a message is delivered out of obligation or in a hurried manner such that the genuine nature is either weak or completely squeezed out, the very same words can lose most of their meaning. Take the time to make your praise genuine if you are going to bother to give it at all.
Timely: They say that timing is everything, and it is. One of the greatest missed opportunities I witness is seeing or hearing an employee do something great, only to observe that no one is acknowledging that behavior with a moment of praise. It’s a lost opportunity. The concept of “striking while the iron is hot” helps to mold the behavior and harden it. Both positive and negative constructive feedback can leave the greatest impression when the action is still fresh and the feelings and emotions associated with the action or behavior are still palpable.
Instead of spending your management energy on correcting, change your style to one that gives specific, genuine, and timely praise when it is due, and watch people strive to win more of that valuable praise!