"Phantom praise." That's how a young geoprofessional described what he perceived as unexpressed praise. "They give you a good bonus, which is nice, but they seldom come out and say, 'Great job' or words to that effect. I know they must be thinking that and that they appreciate my contributions; that's what the bonus is for. But you'd think...."
Yes, you'd think that geoprofessionals who toil in praise-free zones would be eager to dole out praise when they arrive in a position to do so. Regrettably, many don't and even those that do may not do the best job of it. All of which may explain why so many geoprofessionals who leave one firm for another explain their move by saying they weren't appreciated by their former employer.
Some employers make sure they dole out praise by creating an easy-to-implement, formulaic employee-of-the-month program. The programs aren't bad, but their benefits are extremely limited, given that praising employees should:
So how do you praise employees so they and you get maximum benefit? Consider these five possibilities, and note that each has one key element in common.
1. Ask for help. Asking for help is an act of vulnerability: It's admitting to the person you ask that you have a weakness of some kind or lack a certain skill. As such, by asking, you demonstrate trust while also showing that you respect the other person's skills or intellect, especially when the help you need is only somewhat (or not at all) related to the other person's job. Consider this anecdote contributed by a branch manager who attended a meeting "at corporate," where the subject was lay-offs. The branch manager was opposed and tried to win others to his way of thinking, to no avail. By the time he returned to his own office, word had spread. "So, we're going to have lay-offs," an employee said to him, to confirm the rumor's truth. "I hate it, but that seems to be what's best for the company," the branch manager replied. "I don't know how I'm going to tell the troops. Do you have any ideas?" The employee thought about it and then said, "Tell them the truth and then let them know where we go from here." The branch manager did exactly that and, later, the employee told him how much it meant that he had asked and that he followed the advice.
2. Ask for ideas. This is similar to asking for help in that it's best to ask for ideas for improving functions the employee doesn't perform. In other words, instead of asking, "What are your ideas for performing your work faster?" try, "You always meet or beat your deadlines. I don't know how you do it. But we continue to have problems in getting our bills out on time. How'd you like to take a look at the process we use and maybe come up with some suggestions?" Doing this could result in the development of some good ideas, and it also says, "We think you're so good at doing something, we want you to use it elsewhere in the company." That's a pat on the back that a pat on the back cannot duplicate.
3. Assign a short-term leadership responsibility. Assigning a short-term leadership responsibility tells a person that you trust the individual's skill and judgment. The more important the task, the more significant the praise and self-esteem boost. As an example, "We're having a problem with a major activity for a major client, Jim. I can't get to it; I don't have enough time. Can you take two people and figure out what needs to be done?"
4. Do something together. You and your employees do not have the same standing; you're the boss and they're not. As a result, you can recognize an employee's value by offering to do something together, as equals. For example, you might say, "I'm attending a writing seminar so I can improve my proposal-writing skills. Would you be interested in going with me?" This is flattering to the employee because the company wants to invest in the person's skills improvement, and because it regards the employee as someone who will be writing proposals.
5. Let people name their own reward. Rather than giving a standard this or that for work well done, ask people what they want; e.g.: "You did an amazing job on that Foley project. What can I do to reward you?" Doing this can be scary, but it demonstrates trust. And more often than not, the reward sought is not that grandiose, but it does have real meaning to the person who deserves it.
What's the common element in each of the five? Each uses a different means to say, "I trust you." That can be powerful praise indeed.