The environment, structure, policies, procedures, rules, and all other things make it hard or
Is the required task part of their current job description or role?
Are there policies, rules, or procedures that make the desired behavior difficult or impossible?
Are their bureaucratic steps or barriers that hinder them?
Do they have the equipment or tools they need?
Is the physical environment helpful or a hindrance?
Do they have access to the information they need ”are they getting adequate performance feedback?
Are their goals and priorities clear?
Praise plays an important role in problem solving. Those who are best at holding crucial confrontations make good use of praise between confrontations. When people see them coming, they already feel respected and valued. They assume that the problem solver has their best interest in mind because he or she consistently recognizes when things are going well and talks about those accomplishments openly and frequently. When given sincerely and often, praise provides a reserve of respect one can draw from when it s time to talk about a failed promise.
Praise is also a subject that receives attention about twice a year when human resource folks conduct satisfaction surveys. According to the authors research, the number-one employee complaint year in and year out always comes down to the same issue: not being recognized for a job well done. It seems that most of us are missing opportunities to create a climate of mutual respect. To help reverse this trend, let s look at some thoughts about praise that are a bit counterintuitive.
Perhaps the biggest reason we don t mete out praise very often is that we
The fact that the praise statistics never get better no matter how much we study them, talk about them, and lament their embarrassing consistency is a function of the fact that our society suffers from obscured vision ”we can only see the bad. In the leadership literature this is called management by exception: Pay attention to and work on things gone wrong. Within a family it s called survival: Put out the fire before it consumes the house. Every year people complain that they aren t recognized for their good performance because every year they are so blinded by problems that they don t notice things gone right.
Of course, we do notice record-breaking accomplishments. Hit new
To put this problem in perspective, Mark Twain once suggested that he could live for two months on a good compliment, and he was an American hero during his lifetime. How much more do everyday heroes such as file clerks, code writers, and
The psychological explanation for our inability to see things gone right is incorporated in figure-ground theory. The human perceptual system
M. C. Escher made a better living than most of his contemporaries by painting works that
As in squinting at an Escher painting, we must find ways to reverse what has historically been background and
To achieve this monumental feat, to turn around more than a half century of low praise scores, requires but three things: commitment, a change in standards, and simple cues.
An illustration might help. Let s take our lead from Donald Petersen, former chairman of Ford Motor Company. Every day he sat down at a massive desk in an office large enough to shoot hoops in and handwrote short, sincere, positive messages to people he worked with. He argued, The most important ten minutes of your day are those you
Here was the chairman of one of the largest companies in the world, a man who easily could have spent all his time doing long-
The second feature of what Mr. Petersen did is also worth noting. He sent simple
Husbands often have a hard time getting this point. When all a wife really wants is a kind word, a gentle touch, or a sincere smile, the husband misses these opportunities for months on end and then one day ponies up with a new car. Or,
The third element is a bit harder to notice. The chairman of Ford sat down every day and wrote notes. By doing it every day, he didn t have to be reminded. Even if we sincerely want to reward accomplishments and are willing to look for the little things, we often forget. Problems are the field, and solutions are the ground. To reverse this habit, schedule time to do nothing but focus on things gone right. Set aside a time every day to walk around and look for elements that you can praise. Then do it. Sit down at your computer, bring up the e-mail address of a friend or colleague, and write a thoughtful note. Keep it short and sincere. With time and practice, you ll start noticing things gone right more naturally.
If we re paying attention to small accomplishments and then offering up thanks or perhaps a note or maybe a tiny memento, aren t we being too low-key and cheap? Consider the following story: Every year one of the authors receives a birthday card with a handwritten message from an old friend. He hasn t seen this friend in over a
Surely the person who sends the card has a reminder on his calendar. That s the cue. Surely he cares about being pleasant and thoughtful. That s the commitment. And surely he realizes that just having a birthday is cause enough for a thoughtful word. That s the change in standards.
This notion also runs counter to what typically happens in organizations. The whole idea behind every award ceremony ever devised is to allow people to bask in the admiration of their
This runs counter to what typically happens. Teams and individuals alike are often rewarded for breaking records. The danger is that in doing this people also break all kinds of rules, regulations, and policies just to hit the higher numbers. Sometimes they merely cook the books. This is not to suggest that numbers don t matter but to highlight the importance of
For example, a
We ve nibbled at this issue; now let s take a big bite out of it. Most of the recognition handed out in companies is structured. We hold monthly awards ceremonies; we have annual banquets.
When these events become the only
Supplement your formal celebrations with ten times as many informal ones. Write personal notes, stop people in the hall, drop off a cookie or flower, and make thank you your mantra. Watch for things gone right and then spontaneously and sincerely offer up your thanks and praise. Tell people what they did and why it s worth noting and then end with a simple Thank you.
Make recognition such an informal,
 Fred Bauer. The Power of a Note. In Heart at Work: Stories and Strategies for Building Self-Esteem and Reawakening the Soul at Work, compiled by Jack Canfield and Jacqueline Miller. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998), 190 “194.
 Masaaki Imai, Kaizen: The Key to Japan s Competitive Success (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986), 19 “20, 107.