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In Praise of Spontaneous Praise

3 min read

About a year ago Gallup did an interesting survey. They were interested in answering this question:

We believe that it’s the leader’s job to initiate and to feed all the relationships around them.

What is the single most powerful tool an organization or leader has to increase engagement from their people and hang on to top talent?

Is it salary? A more lucrative benefits package than the competition? Is it longer vacation time? Can we actually get people to work harder at the office by promising them they can get away from the office?

What is the lever an organization can pull to get people to give that extra something?

The answer? Reaching out. But reaching out in a specific way. Using praise. They found that spontaneous positive feedback increased engagement and helped organizations hang onto top talent.

That’s right. It’s positive feedback from you, their leader. It’s the act of deepening your relationship with them by being encouraging.

Surprisingly, the R of our PRES Model for Presence doesn’t actually stand for Relationship. It stands for the concept of Reaching Out because we believe that it’s the leader’s job to initiate and to feed all the relationships around them.

People will go the extra mile if they know their leader is paying attention. Because the measure of your success as a leader isn’t what people say they feel about you. The measure of your success as a leader is what your people feel about themselves when they are in your presence.

Do they feel great about their ability? That they can do anything and that their leader believes in them? Or are they afraid of making a mistake and getting into trouble?

Spontaneous endorsement from you will increase discretionary effort from them. And I don’t mean an obligatory ‘good job’ before diving into the ‘real’ critical feedback:

“Carol, good job on the presentation, but here are a few things I’d like to see you do better next time.”

I mean an authentic specific compliment like this:

Carol, they way you organized your story at the board presentation was very engaging. I was proud to have you represent our team.” [And then stop talking!]

Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager states that you have to earn the right to provide formative feedback. And you earn that right in a four to one ratio. In order to be experienced as a positive manager you have to provide four pieces of positive feedback on four separate occasions before providing any tips on improvement.

Now, at this point some of you may be thinking:

Ahhh…what if there is nothing to praise? Sometimes my people are just…okay.

Keeping in mind the idea that it’s your job to make people feel great about themselves (so that you can move them towards a collective desired outcome) here are a few ideas on things you can acknowledge to help feed relationships with everyone in your sphere of influence:

  • Praise effort.
  • Comment on the fact that someone stayed late to finish a project or cleaned up the break room.
  • Acknowledge that you enjoy someone’s sense of humor or their ability to juggle their home life with their work commitments.
  • Engage people in a conversation about the personal mementos on their desk.
  • Endorse their values. Maybe it drives you crazy that they take too long to prepare a report – but the reason that they take so long is that they are detail oriented. You can comment on that as a strength.
  • Maybe they make mistakes because they do things too quickly. You can comment on their enthusiasm and energy.
  • Pass positivity on. Maybe you know that other people in the organization value a particular skill or trait they have. You can bring that into their awareness.

Here is my leadership challenge for you:

I challenge you to make it part of your daily to-do list to compliment someone everyday.

If you make this a goal, by the end of a month you will have spread 20 pieces of positivity around your company. And by the end of the year you will have spread 240 pieces.

If you do that, I promise it will transform your leadership. And here’s how I know:

The Gallup Research found that this kind of activity, the activity of spontaneous positive feedback engages and optimized teams better than any other incentive device. And that “…optimized teams within an organization — those that are in the top 50% of teams on both employee and customer engagement — generate a 240% boost in financial performance compared with teams that fail to engage their employees and their customers.”*

The single most powerful tool you have to increase engagement from your people is a compliment away. “R” you Ready to Reach out?

* The Next Discipline: Applying Behavioral Economics to Drive Growth and Profitability by John H. Fleming and James K. Harter Gallop Consulting


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