Motivating and communicating

Don't think any praise is good praise


Many managers think that handing out praise indiscriminately is better than not praising at all.

They are wrong. If you hand out praise the wrong way, at the wrong time, or for the wrong reasons, it can do more harm than good. Here are some guidelines to follow when using praise to motivate employees:

  • Be very specific about what you praise. Never say, "Frank, you are doing a great job, keep up the good work." For all you know, Frank spent that morning making personal phone calls and goofing off. He's going to think that you are a pushover and easy to fool. Wait for something specific to praise, e.g., "Frank, you did a great job on the Anderson account. Keep up the good work."
  • Do not praise ordinary performance. If you praise employees for doing routine tasks, they won't be motivated to do better. Also, if and when they do excellent work, your praise will not mean so much.
  • Don't just "hit and run." If an employee does excellent work on a project, spend some time with that employee to let him or her know how much it means to you and the company. Better yet, take that employee to lunch, on the company, as a way of rewarding the behavior.
  • Use praise to improve poor performance. If an employee is doing well in one area, but poorly in another, use praise to improve the poor performance. Sit the employee down, praise what he or she is doing right, and then say, "Now, I want you to take the same approach on this other matter..."
  • Never assume praise is enough. Superior performance over time deserves more than compliments. Praise starts to ring hollow if that's all the employee ever gets. Bonuses, raises, interesting job assignments, and other forms of appreciation are absolutely essential at some point. 

Jules Ciotta is president of Motivation Communications Associates. He can be reached at (770) 457-4100 or

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