When Praise Matters Most
Regardless of whatever a leader wants more of from team members, praise will prime the pump.
Leaders who reward others with praise for the behaviors they want to encourage find that team members respond by replicating their efforts. Catch people doing things right. Then, let them know. This is a critical leadership skill everyone should master.
The key to this tactic is to be highly specific. Recognize the positive actions in vivid detail. As opposed to general praise (“Well done!” “I really like your work.” “Great job!”), specific praise aims at the details behind a performance or action (“When you described how we calculate problems, the client became energized.”).
When leaders give detailed descriptions of the behaviors they observe and explain why they appreciate them, team members are encouraged to engage in those behaviors in the future. Better to say, “I really liked the best practice you proposed in the meeting today,” than, “Way to go in the meeting today.” In teaching circles, this practice is called Behavior Specific Praise. As the infomercial says, it works for ages 9-69.
As with other leadership feedback, timing really matters. When specific praise follows the desired action immediately, the compliment better reinforces what the leader wants to see more of. Missing the immediate window isn’t a game changer, but it helps to be timely.
Specific praise does wonders for what team members will do well the next time. The magic is in the exactness offered. As Warren Buffet likes to say, “Praise by name, criticize by category.”