Matt Tenney, Contributor
Praise is a powerful motivator. Teachers, parents, and coaches have long used praise to recognize achievements and encourage the behaviors underlying those achievements. Business leaders may not realize how important praise can be for employees, but it really does offer an array of benefits for organizations and their teams.
Psychology tells us that praise is the primary source of positive reinforcement, the process of modifying behavior for a more positive result. Business leaders can use praise to recognize and reinforce positive behavior in their employees.
Whether through words or actions, praising employees boosts team morale, increases employee retention and loyalty, and improves performance.
How do you praise someone professionally? Here are six tips leaders can follow when praising employees professionally.
Tip 1: Be Genuine
As usual, authenticity is so important when providing any type of feedback to employees, including praise. By finding an aspect of the employee’s performance you truly find praiseworthy, your praise will be genuine and job-related.
For example, you can praise an employee’s ability to remain calm under pressure or handle difficult customers with tact and professionalism.
Authentic compliments are felt more deeply by employees and can motivate them to perform at a high level and even improve in other areas. Lack of authenticity and false praise that is not genuinely felt can demoralize your team and potentially create a toxic work environment.
It’s also wise to keep any negativity, or “backhanded compliments, out of the conversation, such as “You did a better job than last time, when you made that big mistake.”
Tip 2: Keep It Specific
Praise can be offered in a variety of ways, but it is always more useful for employees when it focuses on a specific action or behavior. Rather than generalizations, like “great job,” find detailed aspects of your employee’s performance to praise.
Maybe you have an employee who has a knack for client relations, a talent for project management, or is adept at problem solving. Whatever their area of expertise, it’s so important to learn your team members’ unique qualities, and let them know that you recognize and appreciate the skills they bring to the team.
Providing specific details when praising employees demonstrates to them that you are paying attention—and that you value the work they do. This boosts their confidence in their skills, which encourages them to apply the skills in other aspects of their work.
Tip 3: Single Out Their Efforts
When an employee achieves something big for the organization it provides a great opportunity to praise them. However, results-oriented praise, such as “Congratulations on landing that big account!” or praise that focuses predominantly on profits, can be less effective than praising the efforts your employee made to achieve that outcome.
For example, “Your presentation showed how focused you have been on meeting our client’s needs, and that helped us land the account,” acknowledges the employee’s individual contributions that helped achieve the big result.
Big results don’t happen magically but are the culmination of smaller efforts and hard work every step of the way.
Praising these efforts, either of one employee or the collaborative work of a team, helps them know their contributions are valuable and essential to the organization’s success. Praise also helps reinforce those behaviors that help the team achieve big results.
Tip 4: Recognize Employees’ Impact on the Organization–and on Each Other
Another way to offer much-deserved praise to employees is to tell them about how their work has impacted you, the team, or the organization.
Maybe you’ve got an employee who steps up to cover for a co-worker who has a family emergency or who goes above and beyond to meet a deadline for a client. These actions can have a tremendous impact on their co-worker’s well-being and on the company’s bottom line and reputation.
Even if you just notice that an employee consistently models the organization’s core values, that’s an impactful behavior deserving of praise.
Acknowledging the impact of an employee’s actions can make them more aware of how their efforts can affect others positively. This can motivate them to remain engaged and mindful of their actions and behavior.
Tip 5: Be Consistent In Your Compliments
Leaders who foster a work environment with a strong system of communication realize the importance of feedback at all levels of the organization.
One thing to keep in mind when giving feedback is that even employees who regularly perform well still need the positive reinforcement of praise. High-performers may seem to function at that level so consistently that leaders feel they don’t need to continually provide praise to acknowledge their efforts.
While you don’t want to overdo or exaggerate praise (this can be construed as insincere), keeping praise consistent will demonstrate to your team that you do not take the exceptional work they do for granted.
Always make time to appreciate the unique contributions of all team members and do so regularly.
Step 6: Encourage Employees to Recognize Each Other’s Achievements
While research clearly shows a link between praise from top leadership and improved job performance and loyalty, encouraging employees to compliment and recognize the achievements of their co-workers helps reinforce the organization’s strategy and inspires commitment, helping employees to feel good about the work they are doing.
When team members praise their co-workers, it builds trust between team members. This can facilitate a positive, harmonious work environment, improve collaboration, reinforce core values, and ensure culture alignment.
Making Praise Part of Your Organizational Culture
Praise is one of the most effective ways to let an employee know they are valued and that their work is appreciated. It plays a critical role in building trust and strengthening working relationships.
A study by Gallup revealed that only one in three workers in the United States and Germany strongly agreed that they received praise or recognition in the past seven days for their performance. The workers who disagreed were twice as likely to say they’d quit over the course of the next year.
These findings are a testament to the importance of praise, and they strongly suggest that praise is a vital component of a successful, feedback-rich culture.
Matt Tenney is the founder of PeopleThriver and The Generous Group, two companies that aspire to create the best workplace cultures in the world. Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence. Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings. His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.