Why give thanks?
Have you ever stopped to give way to someone in another vehicle and as they pass there is not even an acknowledgement let alone a thank you from them? How did it make you feel?
Saying thank you, even for small things can make a big difference to how people feel and behave.
There are many reasons why you should regularly give praise and thank people – this is especially true if you are a leader.
People who feel appreciated and respected are more motivated than those who think their efforts go unnoticed. They're tend to be much more engaged in the work they do, and they're more committed to their teams because they know that they're making a real difference (actually making a difference always scores highly on questionnaires into what drives people to do the work that they do). Simply thanking people is especially important if you are working within tight budgets where you can't afford necessarily to reward your people with monetary or material bonuses.
Giving sincere praise also helps to develop good work relationships within a high performing team. It becomes a reciprocal thing where others are often very willing to return the feeling of goodwill – this creates a much better team dynamic and culture.
Praise has another amazing effect on human beings – it releases chemicals that make us feel good. When we hear something we like, dopamine is released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and it's associated with feelings of joy, pride, satisfaction, and well-being (all the things that we want and need in a high performing team).
When you praise someone not only does that person feel good, but it leads them to want to experience that same feeling again.
Things that get in the way of praise
Some people find it very difficult to give praise or compliments. If they were brought up in an environment where giving praise wasn't the norm, it might not be their default to give praise to other people. Others feel uncomfortable because they have less confidence or low self-esteem, or because it simply makes them feel embarrassed.
If you fall into the category of uncomfortable praise giver then think about the possible reasons why it's difficult for you. Discover the why and take steps to challenge/change it.
If you're simply not used to giving others praise, make a conscious effort to recognise people's good work at least once a day.
You can also adjust the way that you work to make it easier to spot good work and be in a position to give praise. Practice managing by walking around, or start eating lunch in a communal area instead of at your desk in your office.
If you are still reluctant to give praise then remember (if it helps) that praise doesn't have to be face-to-face – you can send an email, give the person a quick call, or even praise their hard work to others when the person isn't around.
How to make praise memorable
It is important to give praise but don’t go over the top. If you praise too often, it will lessen the impact of your message and make others question your integrity.
To make your praise more memorable (and meaningful), try this:
1. Be Specific
Most of us have heard comments like “good job!" or "Well done on that project report!" While this is definitely better than no praise at all, you'll make more of an impact if you are more specific.
For instance, you could say, "The way you laid out the graphs in that project report really helped me to deliver the update to the senior leadership team in a clear and concise way; thank you."
2. Do as well as say
Praise doesn't always have to come in the form of a verbal or written compliment. You can show your appreciation and respect to others in a variety of ways.
For instance, asking a team member for their help with a task you are doing or to mentor/coach a new starter shows that you trust and value their experience, skill and character. Mix verbal praise with actions that show your appreciation and respect.
3. Praise Often (sincerely)
The more you praise others sincerely, the quicker they'll learn what's important to you as a leader. This is especially relevant if you're trying to shape the behaviour and culture of a new team.
Balance your praise and constructive feedback. The optimum ratio for performance is a 3:1 of positive to negative feedback. Always aim to give more positivity without losing sight of what needs to be improved – I am not say gloss over the bad with all positive good stuff. Don’t forget also that the more positive emotions you can encourage in your team, the more flexible and creative they'll become.
4. Praise Appropriately
Everyone in your team is different and their default setting for how they like to be praised will change according to different circumstances. Each team member will have different motivations (although many will be similar). Some people love being praised publicly while others prefer a quiet "thank you" in private.
It is important as a leader to analyse the best type of praise for each person. Before you offer public praise to anyone, ask yourself whether this is something the person would truly want.
5. Spread Your Praise
Don’t think that only the major wins or big achievements need your praise. This can lead to your most talented team members getting praised all the time – this will in turn continue to drive them to perform well, however, you should try to include team members who get less recognition; it might be that a little appreciation is all that they need to push that little bit more or even just be happier.
Not everything has to be a big life changing event – I have always loved the quote ‘If you think you or it is too small to make a difference, sleep in a room with a mosquito’.
The When and How
If you wait until your people are leaving to start praising them then it is probably too late. Make it a habit from early on to give real, honest and appropriate praise. Workers who feel appreciated are twice as likely to stay at a company as those who don't feel appreciated. If you think you don't have time or can't afford to show appreciation to your team, then stop and think about how much you currently invest in hiring and training new people. How much would you save if your turnover were lower? Recognising your team's efforts (everybody in the team – not just the high flyers) is almost always cost-effective. See my other article which explores the performance management balance in a team here.
Ensure that you are sincere about why you thank people. Don't rush the praise while you're doing another task or on your way somewhere else. This reduces the praise to nothing more than a token effort or tick box exercise in the other person’s view. Stop, look at the person, and tell him how much you appreciate what they are doing/have done.
Some final points:
· Be consistent – like parenting or training a dog, praise needs consistency. If you praise often during one month, and then don’t praise at all the next month entirely, your team will wonder what's going on. Creating a team culture that shouts out ‘recognition and reward is important’!
· Be specific – Every time you praise people on your team, be specific about what they and why it made a difference. If you say, "Dave did a great job yesterday!" it is too vague. Being specific not only makes the person you area praising feel good, it also lets the whole team know that you're paying attention to what happens in the team.
· Know your people – You must know your team to reward them adequately. Getting to know your team's interests is critical to showing your appreciation well. More on this here.
· Make the reward relevant – Your gift or gesture should be relevant to your team member's effort.
Remember that people need to be recognised and praised for the good things that they do.