Examples of when to offer thanks and when to offer praise

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Here are some thoughts on when to thank your employees and when to praise your employees:

Thanks is connected to acknowledgement of work being done

You thank your employees when they do something that is within the regular job duties, and it marks some delivered item by the employee.

The threshold for earning thanks can be very, very low. Showing up to a meeting can earn thanks.  An email that responds to your question can earn thanks.  An employee who followed up on something for you can earns thanks.  An employee who is simply does their job – and the moment they finish the part of the job they worked on – can earn thanks.  Someone completing a car repair.  That can earn a “Thank you for completing that repair” from the manager.  Someone returning from a sales call.  That can earn a “Thank your for doing that sales call.”

When you become a manager, expect to be giving a lot of “Thanks” to your employees.  Unless it is already obvious what you are thanking them for, you will want to specify what you are thanking your employee for:

“Thanks for completing that job.”

“Thanks for your input.”

“Thanks for getting here on time.”

You’ll be thanking people for all sorts of things, and for things that are part of the regular, expected work output.  Yes, as a manager, you should be thanking employees for doing what they ought to be doing.  It is acknowledgement that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.  The appreciation you provide only reinforces that.  I’d say it’s generally a good idea to reinforce what people ought to be doing.

Praise is connected to specific behaviors that drive results.

Praise is a more formal expression of performance feedback, and like its counterpart, corrective feedback, it should be specific and immediate.  Praise is positive reinforcement of specific behaviors, meaning it will encourage the employee to keep doing what you praise the employee for doing.

You praise an employee when they do something that appears to have some sort of positive impact or marker of quality with quantity.  This effort that earned praise can be part of the normal part of the job, and well within the regular job expectations.  But if you can identify what was good about what the employee did – and try to focus on behaviors in your feedback– and why what they did had a positive impact, then this should earn praise.

Here are some good examples of praise to an employee:

“Great job on the presentation – you kept it succinct and it got the key points out in a timely fashion.  It kept the audience interest up, and I think that we’re closer to reaching the sale.”

“I was happy with how you managed that difficult customer.  You listened to what the customer said, and transitioned to what you could do, rather than what you couldn’t do, and this allowed you to come to an agreement. I like how you said, “Let’s work together to resolve this.”  Then followed through with what you agreed to do.  This turned around an unhappy customer to a happy customer.”

“I’m impressed with how your resolved that technical problem.  Instead of complaining to the people around you, you followed the procedure and found the right people to help you resolve the issue, and it got resolved quickly.  This kept the system running with a minimum of downtime, which is what our customers expect.”

“You deserve praise for how you cultivated that client relationship.  I’m impressed with how you identified a common purpose, and what we can do to achieve the client’s goals.  I’m hopeful that this initial effort will lead to sales in the future.”

Note that all of these actions being praised are still within the realm of the regular job duties, and the actions performed aren’t especially remarkable.  Yet, as a manager, you are still obliged to praise work that has a positive impact and what it was that you think created that positive impact.  Yes, that means offering a lot of praise if your employees are doing good work.

The trick with praise is that it identifies the specific actions of the employee that earned the praise.  And when you offer that praise, expect the employee to keep doing that.

Because praise reinforces behaviors, don’t praise behaviors that, if replicated, could cause damage!  For example, don’t praise employees who don’t follow an important procedure; however, you can praise an employee who shows appropriate judgment in going outside the normal procedure, and if you can explain why that was a good idea to make the exception.

Also be careful not to praise general behaviors or “everything” that an employee does.  “Everything you do is amazing!” means only that you have no idea what that employee does, and you have no idea what impact the employee is having.  It also inadvertently praises and reinforces the things that the employee may actually be doing wrong.

Praise is very inexpensive, so there’s no need to ration it.  It should be offered regularly.  Praise, when given, can also be added to your performance log, so you don’t forget what you liked about the employee’s performance.

For you management designers out there – what do you do to ensure that managers are reinforced in their ongoing efforts to offer praise for good work?

Helpful tip for managers: Keep a performance log

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Beginner Level

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Intermediate Level

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Advanced Level

Behavior-based language primer: Steps and Examples of replacing using adverbs

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Examples of how to improve employee corrective feedback and how to get rid of damaging adverbs

Behavior-based language primer for managers: How to tell if you are using behavior-based language

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Avoid using value judgments

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Stop using generalizations

The myth of “one good thing, one bad thing” on a performance review

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .

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