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How to qualify as a praise master.

For some people, giving and receiving praise is as hard as giving and receiving criticism. Although praise can be undermined if overdone, very few of us make full use of its potential.

Praise is our least expensive and most effective motivating force. It can make us feel great about who we are and what we do.

How do you measure up? To rank yourself as a praise master, take the quiz in Figure 1.

To be effective, praise must be on target, earned, specific, and sincere. The first characteristic of a praise master is knowing what, when, and whom to praise. Excessive, misdirected, or phony praise is counterproductive.

We can praise effectively only when we are aware of our employees' accomplishments and behavior. Those who attempt to manage from their offices are seldom able to specify what kinds of performance should be recognized or to select the employees who deserve praise most.

Supervisors who practice management by wandering around know what is going on. That process involves catching people doing something right. One way to remember to maintain a high ratio of praise to criticism is to visualize each employee wearing a large badge reading MMFI, for Make Me Feel Important.

* What deserves praise. Praiseworthy performance may appear in many guises (see Figure I1).

[paragraph]Work beyond call of duty. An employee may work long hours, fill in without complaining when others are on vacation or sick, or return to the laboratory after the end of the shift. The starlet may hand in a report before it's due, defuse a difficult situation with an angry physician, or volunteer for an unpleasant assignment. It is appropriate, even necessary, to let such a person know that you noticed work beyond the call of duly.

[paragraph]Dependable performance. The quiet and the reliable are ignored far too often in favor of the most outstanding and the most dysfunctional. Those whose work consistently meets your expectations are the backbone of the workplace. They cooperate, they are rarely absent, and they support you vocally in your absence. Don't take your "old faithfuls" for granted or you may find your appreciation has bloomed too late--after they have gone.

[paragraph]Improved performance. When an employee whose work has fallen below par starts showing improvement, offer congratulations. Too often we withhold praise until the behavior has met our standards. When we teach a child to walk, we don't delay praise until the tot has walked across the room. We make a big fuss over the first unsteady step.

[paragraph]Suggesting ideas. It's easy to pass out compliments when an award-winning proposal is submitted. Do you also thank people who offer suggestions that are off the wall? If you do not receive many suggestions, you may not be passing out compliments for innovative thinking. The average employee of the Toyota Motor Corporation submits over a dozen suggestions each year. How many do your staffers submit?

[paragraph]Identifying problems. Long after Greek tragedy has seen its day, we continue to kill the messenger--or at least to greet the bearers of bad news with groans and scowls. This is a mistake. Be so nice to messengers that they're able to think clearly. Suggest that they offer at least one way to solve the problem. Employees are genuinely pleased when asked to suggest solutions for problems they uncover. Your interest in their opinion reassures them that you are a caring and listening manager, not just a sounding board.

* How to praise. Like any other reward, praise loses its effect when used to excess. For greatest effect, credit people frequently, but not on a schedule or every time they do something specific.

Use the one-minute praise of Blanchard and Johnson.(1) Praise immediately after the act. Tell the individual precisely what he or she has done right. State how good you feel about it or how it helped others. Insert a moment of silence to demonstrate how good you feel. Shake hands or touch the person to demonstrate your support.

Do not delay in giving praise; you might forget. Even if you remember later, you will have diluted the impact. The recipient may think the behavior being praised was not really important to you or may not be sure exactly what is being complimented.

Praise should be specific. The recipient should know exactly what he did right, or what aspects were important to you. If you praise accurately, your sincerity is more likely to be believed. You will avoid giving the misimpression that you like everything the person does. You will show the person that you know what's going on.

Here is an example of a fuzzy compliment. A night shift supervisor says to a technologist on that shift, "Your performance last night was outstanding." The technologist cannot pinpoint the activity being complimented. De-fuzzed, the compliment stands out: "Getting all that blood up to the OR so fast last night may have saved a life. I'm proud of you."

The use of facial expressions, eye contact, and other forms of body language is more forceful than words alone. Blend complimentary words with appropriate visual and kinesthetic messages, especially touching. With all the talk about sexual harassment, people are afraid to touch each other at all. Touching is essential to good interpersonal relationships. A firm handshake or a gentle squeeze of a forearm reinforces the warm feeling we want to transmit. Tactile communication is powerful. When done properly, it is neither repressive nor intimidating.

Never underestimate the power of quick praise. "Thank you," "I appreciate that," and "Good work" transmit powerful messages when delivered with enthusiasm and sincerity. Have you ever tried a simple "Wow! "?

The written word helps reinforce praise. Write a brief thank-you on a post-up note and stick it on the recipient's door. Watch how many people stop to read it. Even a modest employee will delay taking it down. For significant praiseworthy acts, write a short memo. Place one copy in the employee's personnel file and send another to your boss.

Ask your computer people to prepare fancy certificates. Use these to acknowledge superior performance. For unusually fine efforts, plaques and framed letters are appropriate.

* Spread the word. Don't allow your talented staff members to hide their various lights under a bushel.

[paragraph]Tell others. Praise someone's successful action at a staff meeting. Feed it into the grapevine. Arrange for it to be published in the hospital newsletter. Tell your hospital's public relations staff about it. Send it to a local newspaper.

[paragraph]Report it to your superior. When your boss shows up in your department, point out the individuals or group who merit praise, and why. Compliments from your boss tell the employees your praise was sincere.

[paragraph]Hold brag sessions. Encourage individuals or groups of people to boast about their accomplishments at staff meetings. Modesty prevents most people from extolling their deeds from day to day; praise for others or for the work of the entire group is easier to elicit. Begin a brag session by asking, "What has given you the most satisfaction since our last meeting?" or "Who besides yourself deserves special praise today?" Brag sessions are especially valuable for new supervisors and for those who are not yet familiar with the performance of some of their staff members.

* Avoid insincere praise. Employees' perceptions of praise are affected by their view of the boss's integrity. Praise from a boss who is considered manipulative will be doubted.

Praise is more believable when it is not overdone and has clearly been earned. It is less hazardous to praise deeds or messages than personalities or traits.

Should praise always be given publicly? No. Some people are embarrassed by being the focus of attention. Others may become the butt of snide remarks from envious associates. When people are embarrassed by direct praise, praise them behind their backs. They are likely to hear about it from others.

Compliments that reach an em ployee by way of a third person are often considered more genuine than those that are delivered face to face. A warning: When you articulate accolades before a group of employees, be sure to praise the one who actually earned them.

1. Blanchard, K, and Johnson, S. "The One Minute Manager." New York, BerkLey, 1982.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:employee motivation
Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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