5 Ways To Give Effective Praise to Motivate Your Team

Praise is one of the most powerful things a leader can offer their team. When delivered well (and well-deserved), praise gives people the drive and motivation to continue doing the caliber of work you want to see.

This is why Mary Kay Ash, founder of the Mary Kay Cosmetics empire, remarked:

Praise is powerful as mary kay ash quote knows

The power of praise is more than anecdotal. Gallup found that giving praise has a profound impact on a company’s bottom line, and their retention:

“[Those answering “strongly agree to] “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work” is responsible for a 10% to 20% difference in revenue and productivity.

Employees who report that they’re not adequately recognized at work are three times more likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”

However, knowing you should give praise, and actually doing it are two different things.  Not only do you need to build the weekly habit, you need to mix it up; saying the same thing over and over to your team will lose its impact over time.

Mix up your praise.

Red Auerbach, legendary Celtics coach and 9-time NBA champion, was a master of motivation. As his star player, Bill Russell, recalled in his book, Second Wind, you need to mix up your praise to maintain its effectiveness:

“You couldn’t say the same thing over and over to each; you had to dream up new ways of getting the message across.

Red used to brag that he could dream up a thousand different reasons for winning, but his real trick was that he could apply each one of those reasons to the right player at the right time.”

To get the best performance out of your team, be like Red and mix up how you motivate your team.

Today, we break down 5 approaches to help you on the path to regularly praising everyone on your team.

5 Simple Ways to Give Great Praise to Motivate Everyone on Your Team

It’s not always easy to know when or how to praise people on your team. You only want to reward great performance, and it’s easy for routines to make you blind to steady, reliable work.

Use these 5 approaches to make sure you’re not missing any opportunities to thank and reward those on your team deserving of recognition.

1) Recognize a project hero

Did someone on your team go the extra mile on a recent project? Is there anyone that was critical to the success? Don’t let them go unnoticed.

even spongebob knows praise matters.

A simple note thanking them or some personal recognition in your 1 on 1 meeting with them can make all the difference. A moment of thanks to them can be all the fuel they need to want to keep working that hard for you and the team. Try something like:

“Thanks for your hard work on the last project, Anthony. Your extra effort helped us deliver it on time and really wowed the customer. We couldn’t have made it happen without you.”

Remember: As Gallup showed us, those going unrecognized are 3 times more likely to quit.

If you were working extra hard on every project and no one seemed to care, would you stick around?  Probably not.  Don’t do that to your team, especially for those making the biggest impact on your key projects.

2) Notice your unsung heroes

“Reliable”, “consistent”, and “trustworthy” are the kinds of characteristics most managers would look for in a potential hire. Yet, once you hire them, it’s often exactly the people exemplifying them most that you take for granted.  Don’t forget your unsung heroes.

In Gallup’s, First, Break all the Rules, a ground-breaking book on the secrets to great management, they found that you can and should try to motivate everyone regardless of role.

As Gallup found, the best way to have high performance at all levels of your org is to, “Create heroes in every role. Make every role performed at excellence is treated as a respected profession.”

Even the most junior person on your team, the lowest paid, or the ones that do the most repetitive work, deserve and will appreciate, praise.

praise is appreciated by anyone

If they’re excelling at their job, tell them.  Not sure how? Try something like this:

“Jamie, it goes unsaid too much, but we really appreciate how you are consistently so warm, and helpful to our customers. No matter how rude they are, or challenging the issue, you always leave them better off than when they started. I want you to know that I notice and appreciate your efforts.”

If you imagine everything falling apart, or not sure what you’d do without someone, make sure you tell them thanks from time to time. You may be surprised how far a little appreciation, and perhaps a thoughtful gift, can go to continue to fuel and motivate your unsung heroes.

3) Dig into their work and find something you like

As your team grows, it becomes harder and harder to keep a close eye on the work of everyone on your team. What you see, versus the totality of their work can be a large gap.

Henry Ward, CEO of Silicon Valley startup Eshares, captured this well in his post on manager FAQs:

Henry Ward of eshares knows how important feedback and praise are

It’s easy to catch a problem in someone’s project: a bug, a typo, a grammatical error.  Unfortunately, if you only focus on what’s wrong, you can discourage your team.

In research published in the American Behavioral Scientist, researchers Heaphy and Losada, found:

“The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments to negative comments…

The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6… The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9… But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.”

If you’re looking for ways to improve your praise to criticism ratio, take 5 minutes and dig into recent work by one of your team members.  Look for more than what’s wrong. Find things you like and praise them for it. Try something like:

“Samantha, I like the visuals you chose in your presentation. They do a great job of highlighting the most important points.”

As with all praise, the more specific you can be with them, the better it will be received. If they know you’re paying attention, they’re more likely to keep putting in the effort you want to see.

4) Pick something to change and praise any demonstration of that change

So far, we’ve focused on your best performers. To keep them motivated and not looking for work and approval elsewhere, you need to recognize them.

But what about those that may be struggling? Praise can help them, too.

When you’re trying to turn around an underperformer, or just coach up someone’s weakness, praise can make all the difference. It takes hard work and focus to improve at something you’re struggling with.

Think about when you were a kid trying to learn to ride a bike, throw a ball, or learn to read. You had to fail many times before you succeeded.

praise and a little help can make you succeed

And what helped you keep trying? A friend, family member, or parent, encouraged you.

While we’re not kids anymore, we are still motivated by praise and recognition. If you’re trying to get someone to improve, praise them when they start doing what you ask them to.  Try something like:

“Jordan, I’m glad to see your attention to detail has improved. Well done. I didn’t see any typos or grammatical errors in your report. Now that I know you can do it, I hope to see this every time.”

Letting people know you’re paying attention, and feeding the seedling of better performance with praise, can help those on your team struggling to stay on the path to improvement.

5) Tie their efforts to a bigger purpose

Recognition for a job well done can go a long way towards making people feel good about their work. But, if you want to really praise like a pro, you’ll also remember another key to motivating your team: Purpose.

In Dan Pink’s book, Drive, he showed how sharing the deeper meaning and purpose of someone’s work can have a major impact. In a study of call center reps at the University of Pennsylvania, he discovered:

“The people in the group reminded of the personal benefit of working at a call center were no more successful in raising money than those in the control group.

But the people in the second group, who read about what their work accomplished, raised more than twice as much money, through twice as many pledges as the other groups.”

Notice how the key was the higher purpose. The benefit of having their job wasn’t enough. Only when the workers understood the good that was done with the money they raised, did it have an impact on their work.

When you’re working with your team, keep in mind your higher purpose. If you’re struggling with what that should be, watch this fantastic video from Simon Sinek called, Start with Why.

Remind them of the why of their work.

Next time you’re praising someone on your team, think about how you can include the why behind their work. Try something like:

“Thanks for your hard work, Byron. Your extra effort on the partnership plan helped seal the deal. We now can help twice as many patients and their families as before.”

When people understand why their work matters and how it ties to your company’s greater purpose, you tap into their highest level of motivation.  Don’t miss out on such an inexpensive way to motivate your team.


Want more ways to motivate and get the best from your team?

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Giving praise to your team costs you almost nothing. It takes no money, and usually very little time.

What it does take is thoughtfulness and care. And that, at its core, is what drives your team to perform.

Your team wants to know you care about them. They want to be recognized when they do their best work.  Use these approaches to help keep your praise fresh, and always have an approach for any situation with a team member.

What are your favorite approaches to giving effective praise to your team?