"If managers want to create a workplace environment where people thrive, tap into the benefits of praise. It costs nothing and pays big dividends to both giver and receiver." Ken Blanchard, noted management consultant, speaker and writer.

    Lee Iacocca once said, "Management is nothing more than motivating other people." Even though this statement is an over-simplification of what effective management entails - motivation is extremely important. So how do we create a work environment that people will find motivating?

    Some feel that finding fault and pointing out errors is the key to motivating. But focusing on the negative and downplaying the positive is not the answer. Johann Wolfgang Goethe emphasized the point when he said "correction does much, but encouragement does more."

    Why Praise and Recognition Are Important
    According to Tom Rath from Gallup, research has shown that "employees who report receiving recognition and praise within the last seven days show increased productivity, get higher scores from customers, and have better safety records. They're just more engaged at work."

    Praise and recognition supports a "high-expectation, high-support" philosophy that can maximize long-term results and relationships. This approach starts with setting expectations and goals with employees - but doesn't end there. Setting a goal starts the behavior, but what happens next drives actual performance. Offering timely and specific praise as progress is made towards the goal will improve performance at every stage.

    Another benefit of expressing praise and recognition is that every time we show people we care, it's like making a deposit in an emotional bank account. Making these deposits is important when you need to make a withdrawal by giving negative feedback. Gray Ridge, CEO of the WD-40 Company explains it well. "If you don't have enough emotional deposits, when you have that tough conversation, it's going to feel like an attack and it's going to hurt. But if you have enough deposits, the employee will already know that you mean them no harm and instead recognize that you're trying to help them."

    Receiving praise and recognition benefits the receiver - but also benefits the giver. Recent research by the University of Pennsylvania on happiness and well-being found that the act of expressing gratitude is a major contributor to overall happiness. Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky found that people who express gratitude are likely to be happier, more hopeful and energetic, and to feel positive emotions more often. They are also more forgiving, empathetic and helpful while being less depressed, envious and neurotic.

    Keys to Effective Praise and Recognition
    Effective praising should be sincere, specific, timely, frequent, based on current performance and personalized to the receiver.

    Ken Blanchard, Vicki Stanford and David Witt have developed a TRUE Praise model which can help us be more effective in giving praise and recognition:
    Timely: Praisings must be immediate and specific. Tell people exactly what they did right as soon as possible. For example, "You submitted your report on time Friday, and it was well-written. I was able to present your data at the meeting." Statements like "Keep up the good work" are less sincere and not specific enough to be effective.

    Responsive: Find out how people want to be praised. If someone doesn't like to be praised in front of peers, then the praising should be delivered privately. The point is to be aware of the needs of the people receiving the praise so it is meaningful to them.

    Unconditional: Deliver praise without evaluation or strings attached. Praise should not be given with something expected in return. It should be given freely when deserved.

    Enthusiastic: Give sincere and well-intentioned praise. Speak from the heart and tell people how you feel about what they did. For example, "I was so proud of you after hearing your financial report presentation. I want you know how good I feel about having you on our team."

    The Five-to-One Ratio
    Over the past decade, scientists have explored the impact of positive-to-negative interaction ratios in our work and personal life. They have found that this ratio can be used to predict - with remarkable accuracy - everything from workplace performance to divorce. And independent research has landed as the ideal ratio for success and happiness to be five positive comments for every one negative (i.e. 5 to 1 ratio).

    Researchers and consultants Emily Heaphy and Marcia Losada examined the effectiveness of 60 leadership teams. The driver that distinguished the most successful teams from the least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments to negative comments. Top performing teams gave each other more than five positive comments for every criticism, while the lowest performing teams gave each other three negative comments for every positive one.

    Psychologists Donald O. Clifton and Tom Rath wrote the book How Full Is Your Bucket? Included was their research into what the positive-to-negative ratio should be to maximize productivity and well-being. Guess what they concluded? Five-to-one ratio positive over negative.

    Researcher John Gottman has studied relationships for over 40 years, and has also found the magic ratio to be five positive for every negative. In one specific study using the 5:1 ratio, which Gottman dubbed 'the magic ratio,' he and his colleagues predicted whether 700 newlywed couples would stay together or divorce by scoring their positive and negative interactions in one 15-minute conversation between each husband and wife. Ten years later, the follow-up revealed that they had predicted divorce with 94% accuracy!

    Why are so many positive comments needed for every negative one? Reason is that people are emotionally conditioned to absorb the negative more deeply than the positive. If you reflect back on your own life experiences, you will know this is true.

    Bringing It Home
    The starting place to see more frequent praise and recognition in our work place is for us as leaders to set the example. Gandhi was right when he said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

    I would like to close with a couple of quotes from two of our country's most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. Mary Kay Ash said, "There are two things people want more than sex and money recognition and praise." Sam Walton advised us to "appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They're absolutely free and worth a fortune." I wish you well as you model and develop a culture of praise within your team!


    Wes Friesen, MBA, CMDSM, MDC, EMCM, MCOM, CBA, CBF, ICP, CCM,CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR is the Manager of Billing, Credit and Payments for Portland General Electric, a utility in Portland, Oregon that serves over 830,000 customers. Wes leads his teams with the able assistance of Supervisors Eric Houger, Jan DeMeire, Heidi Fouts and Matt McHill. Wes teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national Conferences like MAILCOM, National Postal Forum, NACUMS, and other regional and local events. Check out his personal web-site for free information (www.wesfriesen.com). He can be contacted at pchefdebi@comcast.net.

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