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Does Praise Really Work?

by Sarah Levitt |

Praise.  It boosts engagement, right?  Not so fast.

When I’m coaching senior leaders on how to get the most from their teams, they assume that I’m going to suggest that they be more positive with their direct reports to get better results.  But positive by itself isn’t much of a tool.  In fact, it’s downright dull.  While many organizations do run too lean when it comes to positive reinforcement, mere praise can be ineffective for driving the results that leaders want.  The reason?  It’s usually too general.

In just a little more time than it takes to say “nice job”, leaders can be far more effective delivering their feedback, thereby enhancing the opportunities for increased engagement and morale.  Below are three tips for getting the most bang for your buck when delivering positive feedback to employees.

  1.  Be as specific as possible.  Specific praise gets a lot more done than a general “nice job” ever could.  When we tell someone that we appreciate the way they handled a challenging situation, stayed late to finish the job, went out of their way to problem solve until it was right, we not only convey appreciation and a job well done, but we convey expectations, as well.  In the same moment that we are expressing appreciation, we’re also reinforcing the high standards that we have for them.  And specific praise tells team members that we truly notice their work, which communicates that we see and value their efforts.
  2. Deliver the feedback in person when possible.  Delivering a brief message of praise by stopping by an employee’s office goes a long way, and it doesn’t have to take long.  I often tell my clients that 5 minutes in person is better than even the best email.   Remember that expression about life being all about showing up?  It applies here, too.  Email is ubiquitous, making an extra stop at someone’s office is not.
  3.  Link their work to its greater impact.  By meeting the deadline, the client relationship was bolstered.  When they masterfully handled a challenging vendor, they affirmed the firm’s reputation in the community.  Because they contributed a new idea, the seed was sown for a new revenue source that will be important to the future of the organization.    Let them know how their work made a difference, to you, the organization, the outcome. 

Positive is good.  Specific positive is great.  And far more effective.

About the Author

Sarah Levitt



Sarah Levitt is an executive coach who works with senior executives to assist them in becoming magnificent leaders.  She is also a speaker whose topics include building high performing teams, leadership resilience, and The Making Magnificence Project™. 

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