Step by Step How to Praise to Motivate Your Team (and why it matters)

Praise is one of the most underrated, yet crucial, parts of managing.

It can dramatically change how people feel and the caliber of work they produce. Research reported on Harvard Business Review shows that teams that are praised most outperformed those praised less across key criteria like financial performance, customer satisfaction, and 360-degree feedback.

Yet, most managers don’t know how to praise, and don’t give enough of it.

learn how to praise because it's a key part of engaging employees

Would you like less turnover and more productivity?

A Gallup study found that more than two-thirds of employees do not receive any praise in a given week. This is while their research showed that getting “praise or recognition for good work” increased revenue and productivity 10% to 20%.

Even more stark, it turned out those not praised, in addition to not being as productive, were more likely to quit. Gallup found that those feeling unrecognized are three times more likely to quit in the next year.

Something’s got to give.

As a manager, there are many soft skills to develop, and one of the most crucial ones is learning how to praise effectively.

Approaching it like a skill and habit to develop gives you the right mindset to get great results from your team. However, if giving praise feels awkward or unnecessary to you, here’s how you can make this critical habit work for you as part of your leadership routine.

Learn how to praise because mary kay ash knows how important it is

How to Praise Your Team Effectively in 3 Simple Steps

As Mary Kay Ash, founder of the Mary Kay cosmetics empire knows well, praise is one of the most powerful tools for leaders. She should know. She’s standing next to one of her iconic pink Cadillacs that top performers receive.

Fortunately, you don’t need to buy a car to be great at praise. Learning how to praise is actually quite easy if you remember just 3 words: Frequent, Specific, & Strategic.

learn how to praise frequently like Tony Robbins

1) Frequent

When you don’t praise your team regularly, they don’t know where they stand with you.

As a manager, what you don’t say may be assumed. You’d be amazed how your team members can make up stories and worst case scenarios based on limited information like your demeanor in a meeting or a face you made in passing. I’m surprised each time I have talked to a team member and discover they had mistaken something small I did for being upset with them.

This is why praise can be so valuable.

It gives your team more information, so they know where they stand with you and how you feel.

Never forget that as a manager, your opinion matters to your team and they are constantly looking to you for information about their status. You control their performance review, bonuses, raises, and promotions after all.

Now with all that on the line, you need to help relieve some of that tension with your team. Learning how to praise effectively has been the easiest way for me to relieve that tension with my team.

Unfortunately, science is working against those of us who don’t give enough praise.

While negative comments, which fuel the release of the stress hormone cortisol, have an effect on the human brain for 26 hours or more, positive ones, which release the bonding and trust hormone oxytocin, last for a much shorter period of time.

In another study, it was found that the highest performing teams had a praise to negative comments ratio of over 5.6.

All of this is to say that you need to praise a lot more than you probably are now, and that when you do, your team will appreciate it.

be like sam walton and learn how to give praise that's specific and genuine

2) Specific

Now, you don’t need to make them feel like they’re brushing their teeth with sugar just to get your praise to criticism ratio over 5. Hollow, brief, “good jobs” for everything won’t cut it.

In fact, those sorts of statements will actively turn your team off as much as you know condescending, fake messages bother you, too.

Instead, tell them *exactly* what you liked in their work:

  • Was it the way they commented their code?
  • Did they give a detailed, efficient, and prompt answer in a support question?
  • Were they able to take control of a bad situation and get everyone quickly working towards a good solution?
  • Did they nail the research for a presentation?

If you specifically acknowledge what you liked in what they did, they will know that you really paid attention, and they’ll know exactly what to do to be praised again.

In a study by Towers Watson, the researchers found that the highest driver of work engagement was whether workers felt their managers were genuinely interested in them and their well-being.

Think about how many times in your own career you’ve said to yourself things like, “I don’t think they even notice what I do.”

Those feelings come from a lack of recognition for your work and efforts. You can avoid your team feeling the same way by specifically recognizing their efforts, especially if you take the time to look for unsung and overlooked heroes on projects.

Richard Branson knows how to praise and why it matters

3) Strategic

Now that you know how important praise is and the structure of good praise, it’s time to get strategic about it: Use praise to develop your people.

Pick something each person on your team could use to improve on or a skill you want them to add. Work with them on it and any time you see them make improvement or do something great, praise them specifically for it. You will see them light up and keep getting better at it until they’re at the level you want or even greater.

Occasionally praising the things you know they’ve always been good at will also keep them from feeling like no one notices their ongoing hard work.

When thinking about how to praise effectively, remember: What you reward and recognize is what you get.

If you don’t recognize anything, the bar will lower to see what gets noticed (or what they can get away with). When you do praise and reward your team, you raise the bar based on what gets praised.

dilbert knows how to praise is a key manager skill

An Example of the Power of Praise.

I once had a team member that seemed disengaged. Her work was ok, but she wasn’t bringing the same energy and enthusiasm as others.

We wondered if we should keep her on the team.

However, before we took such drastic measures, I tried using praise to improve her work and morale.

We put her on a new project and I emphasized how important she was to its success. I then specifically praised her each time I saw her do something great.

To my surprise, not only did she do a great job on the project, but her other work and her attitude improved dramatically.

I have never questioned the power of praise since.

If you want great work from your people, remember to how to praise like a great manager with these 3 words:

  • Frequent: Don’t go a week without recognizing their hard work.
  • Specific: Make it clear what you want to see more of.
  • Strategic: Reinforce unsung work and keep people learning & improving on new skills.

Start praising today.

Don’t feel like this is a big task you don’t have time for. It’s one of many things you can do to be a better manager in 5 minutes or less.

Set aside a few minutes each week to reflect on something you can praise each member of your team for. A simple note thanking them specifically for something they’ve done well will bring smiles all around, just like the Tweet tip above can help you with praising your peers.

If you send it on a Friday afternoon, you might just have your whole team smiling all weekend.

Try a free 21 day trial of Lighthouse.

Further Reading:

Giving specific praise frequently is just the first step in your journey for mastering how to praise and motivate your team. Learn more with these in depth posts:

1 on 1s are a great time to give detailed praise and coaching to your team members. There’s no better way to do that then have a system to keep you organized, prepared, and asking the right questions.

Lighthouse does all of that and more for you, all in one convenient place. Start your free trial now here.

learn how to praise to make a good team