One Reason Your Employees are Rolling Their Eyes

Have you ever had a supervisor who congratulated you for doing something that you knew wasn’t praiseworthy, or worse, something you knew actually made things worse in the long run? Or have you seen a peer recognized for their “great work” only to find yourself secretly muttering “If they only knew?”

I see this happen all the time. Managers encourage the wrong behavior, for the wrong reasons…setting off a ripple effect of well-meaning frustration. “Seriously!? He got the award, after we saved his butt for that dumb mistake?” “If you loved what I did, do you realize I had to break three stupid polices to get there? The next time I do this when your boss doesn’t have a customer breathing down their neck, I’m likely to get written up for non-compliance.”

If you want people to pick up the love you’re putting down, be sure you’re rewarding the MIT (Most Important Thing).

3 Characteristics of Encouraging Encouragement

Truly encouraging encouragement is:

Relevant

The first key to real encouragement is have a real understanding of which behaviors are driving your long-term results. For example, what behaviors lead to long-term customer retention? What leadership behaviors build employee loyalty and engagement?  Sure it’s simpler to focus only on short-term outcomes. But recognizing and rewarding short-term results will encourage win-at-all costs tactics that create long-term havoc. Your encouragement sends an important message to the employee you’re encouraging and everyone around them. Be sure you’re celebrating what matters most.

Specific

You’ve taken the time to identify your team’s relevant behaviors– your Winning Well MIT (Most Important Thing).  Be sure you’re linking your recognition back to behaviors not just outcomes. Describe what actually happened and why it is important.

Ineffective: “Hey, Bob, Great work.”

Effective: “Hey, Bob, I really appreciate the extra hours you put in on that project last week to take a deep dive into the customer’s account and uncover the root cause of the issue. The customer was delighted and renewed with us for another three years.”

If you can’t describe the actual behaviors, you’re not ready to offer encouragement because you don’t know what people did and they won’t know how to do it again. When you take the time to get specific, people know you understand their work, and you reinforce positive contributions.

Meaningful

Effective leaders know that people are different. They want encouragement in different areas, and they receive encouragement in different ways. Some people hate the spotlight, and would rather not be recognized at all than to be called on the stage and be given a plaque. Others will be annoyed if you didn’t take time to understand WHY their breakthrough formula worked on that spreadsheet. Be sure you’re providing encouragement in a way that will be most impactful to your employees. Recognition can backfire when people don’t feel “got.”  To make recognition more meaningful: customize it, personalize it, make it timely, encourage strengths, align it, and involve the team (for more detail and specific ideas see Winning Well chapter 20).

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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