BRKeenan & Associates, LLC

Great Work Groups #4: In Praise of Praise

Praise #14

 In this continuing series, Gallup’s insight #4 is that employees crave positive feedback.  Whole industries are built on the back of employees receiving adulation.  What professional athlete or actor is immune to the heady responses of an adoring crowd?  Unfortunately, many companies miss the critical team building glue which comes from sincere praise.


  1. Institutionalized Feedback – From Day One


From our very first smile as a newborn through each accomplishment great and small, the emotionally fortunate of us are praised and applauded for each advance.  Feedback, especially sincere positive feedback, can make a person’s day, week, and yes, life.  The absence of meaningful and positive feedback makes orphans of us all.


As powerful as praise and positive reinforcements are in our home life, they are just as powerful, perhaps more so, in the workplace.  We all want to be recognized for our achievements and accomplishments.  While almost costless and intuitively easy, positive recognition is often given short shrift by managers; lack of positive feedback is a chronic employee complaint.  “They are all over my backside if I mess up,” an employee might say, “but if I do well, I hear nothing.”  According to Gallup, recognition and praise are essential elements of great teamwork.


  1. Silence is NOT Golden


Mediocre managers often take the approach of “If you don’t hear anything, assume you’re doing a good job.”  How ridiculous is that idea.  Since Kindergarten, every schoolchild is measured and judged; we were weaned on constant feedback.  While undisciplined scholastic ranking can be abusively harsh, feedback is critical — the fundamental purpose is to provide line of sight to improvement.  Without feedback, how can an employee know what to improve?


  1. Flattery vs. Praise (or, The Emperor’s New Clothes)

Perhaps the most common – and dangerous – form of manipulation is flattery.  Sycophants and professional leaches will hide their true agendas with flattery.  Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes still resonates today because we recognize the would-be emperors in our own companies and their desperate need for flattery.


While both praise and flattery can be motivational, they are not equal any more than Richard Rich was the equal of Sir Thomas Moore.  Flattery is but a con artist.   “Praise” (which is an expression of favorable judgment or sincere appreciation) needs to be encouraged and “Flattery” (which is excessive and insincere compliments) shunned.


  1. Obstacles to Giving Praise


Personally, I find it difficult to give compliments.  Mom was bi-polar and, as a result, mood swings abounded.  When she was up, she tried to make up for the down times with compliments so flowery and over the top that they lacked all sincerity.  Yep, I have praise baggage.  For others, it might not occur to them to praise people.  There are 101 reasons people hesitate to give praise.


If you are like me and hesitant to give praise, I have three words: Get Over It.  Dig for the root cause(s) and then work to overcome your resistance(s).  Or, perhaps you’re simply out of practice.  If so, try to recognize someone’s good work each day.  What we seek, we find: if you look for praise worthy events, and you will find them.  To find ideas, you might need to change your work habits, like walking around the office more, or eating lunch with others rather than at your desk.


  1. Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Beware the credit thieves!  Whatever else, don’t be one yourself!  Poor managers will publicly castigate subordinates and then steal their good ideas for their own.  No wonder such managers have a high turnover rate.  If you cannot give credit where credit is due, you have no business being a manager and, at heart, is both a form of IP theft and emotional / professional insecurity.


  1. Effective Recognition (Both Positive and Negative)


Obviously, there is both positive and negative feedback.  Per the Harvard Business Review, the Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio is almost 6 positive comments for every negative one, per the following chart (Positive to Negative):


Highest performing teams              5.60 to 1

Average performing teams           1.90 to 1

Lowest performing teams              0.36 to 1


In either case, to give effective feedback, you should:


  1. Praise often; criticize much less often
  2. Praise in a manner appropriate to the person being praised
  3. Be specific
  4. Give immediate and real-time praise (e.g., be close to the action)
  5. Spread the praise around


Importantly, praise need not be face-to-face.  E-mails, notes, phone calls, all work.  Better yet, praise someone to a 3rd party when the “praise-ee” is not around.  That approach will have a multiplying effect.


Praise is an essential part of retaining good employees, increasing motivation and work effectiveness.  It is also the key to building a strong professional network.  In a pinch, who are you going to help out first – the person who constantly criticizes your weakness or praises your victories, large and small?

For additional information, see also this article.


Brett R. Keenan is a CFO/General Counsel for Small Businesses, Business and Executive Coach, and author of “Small Business 101: From Start-up to Success”.  Based in Chicago IL, BRKeenan & Associates has helped numerous large and small companies succeed, focusing on Finance, Law, Strategy and Operations since 1999.

©BRKeenan & Associates, LLC. April 2015