Why “Good Job” Just Isn’t Good Enough
It was my first management job. I had dozens of my employees in a room making outbound phone calls to survey patients about their recent health care experience. I loved the company, and I loved the work. Since becoming a “supervisor” I had purchased several management books at the big box bookstore (this was pre-online ordering) and had devoured them. I wanted to be a great manager. I wanted to do well for the patients we were interviewing, the hospitals that had hired us, and the company’s three quirky owners who had clearly made this their life’s work. And, I was about to suck at my job.
You see, there was an IT issue in my room. It was a connectivity issue and although a computer wasn’t really “required” for the job at that time, it was helpful. Stacks of paper were slowly being replaced with computers, so a working computer was a plus. Enter the IT team, which consisted of two young guys who wore shorts and t-shirts every day of the year. They didn’t really care much for socializing with others, and they were great at what they did. On this particular day, Mike, the more gruff of the two, showed up in his shorts and Eeyore T-shirt. Harmless, smart guy. Maybe. He sat at my computer, chatted with me, and worked on my machine as he listened and watched me help my staff to wrap up their shift. I had just read Zapp The Lightning of Empowerment (Byham and Cox 1988) and I wanted to both appreciate and empower my staff. I was ready.
As my staff approached the podium where I was positioned, with the IT guy just a few feet away, they each handed me the stack of papers that they had completed that evening before they clocked out for the night. I made comments like “oh, good,” “good job,” and “thank you,” as they dropped off their work to me. Mike looked at me and asked if I made nice comments to all of my staff as they left. I smiled. I couldn’t believe it… my reading and learning had already been noticed. Great! This management thing wouldn’t be so tough after all! My pride shone through as I shared that I had learned the importance of giving praise and was noticeably already doing it.
Then, like a picture-perfect balloon but with an undeniable leak, my confidence plummeted as he responded to my disingenuous, generic comments with “that’s kinda sh@#ty.” His harsh response made me realize that my comments were superficial and uninformed. What had my staff actually accomplished that evening? What exactly was I thanking them for? Darn management books and their darn advice! Who needs them!
In fact, the book was good. I had missed a critical lesson that was not part of my management DNA and I can say that it is 100% spot on. It’s a lesson that I have not internalized: specific, genuine, timely praise is key.
- Specific – As a manager, answer the questions of what exactly the person accomplished that you are happy with, proud of, or thankful for. It’s not enough to appreciate the person vaguely. If you cannot articulate why in a specific way that resonates with employees, they won’t believe that the praise is about them and it will fall flat. Even with your best intentions, this may happen from time to time if you are more removed from the action. But it cannot happen regularly or it feels fake to your direct reports and may do more harm than good.
- Genuine – What is the tone of the message you are sending? Are you sincere about the feeling that you are conveying with your praise? How does it come across and does the receiver get that it is sincere? If you cannot be authentic at that moment, then wait until you can deliver the message authentically and with a sincere tone.
- Timely – When is the best time to give the praise? Can you praise the person immediately in order to solidify the cause and effect of accomplishing a task and receiving instant gratification by way of immediate praise? Don’t wait too long to give someone praise and by all means, don’t save up your praise for the annual review. Occasionally, I’ve had managers tell me that they hesitate to give praise. They worry about fairness and giving everyone praise. And, if that employee is a mixed bag, then they justify not giving praise since they don’t want to confuse the employee by providing too much positive feedback. Don’t overthink it. Always give specific praise of a job well done.
Specific, timely, and genuine praise goes a long way in building your skills as a manager and your rapport with your staff. The next time you are tempted to share an overused phrase of praise, stop, think about what you should really say, and do better. In this case, good just isn’t good enough.