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 your people the drive and motivation to continue doing the kind 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 in the workplace is more than anecdotal. Gallup found that giving praise has a profound impact on a company’s bottom line and its 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.”

The benefits of praise

Correlations to revenue and productivity increases aren’t the only benefits of regular praise in the workplace. Several other benefits have been reported by recent large-scale research.

Management experts Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance revealed data from a 10-year study of more than 200,000 employees.

They found that managers who consistently praise their employees have a lower turnover rate and “79 percent of employees who quit their jobs cited a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving.”

The same study found that more consistent workplace praise also helps employees achieve better results, with 66% of respondents citing “appreciation” as a significant motivator of performance.

Consultancy firm Towers Watson also found in their Global Recognition Study that praise and appreciation are two of the most important factors in building trust.

More than 40% of those respondents who cited not feeling appreciated said they didn’t fully trust their managers and believed their managers didn’t trust them.

The same study also found that managers who make it a habit of recognizing their employees saw “increases in engagement by almost 60%”:

Towers Watson Global Recognition Study - workplace praise

However, knowing you should give praise and actually doing it are two different things.

Not only do you need to build the habit, but you also 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.

praise is something sam walton values

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.

Table of Contents

  1. 5 Ways to give effective praise
    1. Recognize a project hero
    2. Notice your unsung heroes
    3. Dig into their work
    4. Pick something to change
    5. Tie their efforts to a bigger purpose
  2. Bonus: A few more ideas for creative managers
  3. Further reading
even spongebob knows praise matters.

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 its success? Don’t let them go unnoticed.

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.

praise is appreciated by anyone

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, they share some really interesting findings on what it really takes to be an effective manager.

As Gallup found, the best way to have high performance at all levels of your org is to, “Create heroes in every role. Make sure every role performed at a level of 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.

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 would fall 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.

praise search for reasons

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 all the things they actually do behind the scenes can be very different.

Henry Ward, CEO of Silicon Valley startup Carta, 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 workplace 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.

praise and a little help can make you succeed

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.

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.

great effective praise includes helping people include their purpose

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.

Bonus: A few more ideas for creative managers

So far, we’ve given you 5 specific ways to give effective praise that will help you motivate your team. This improves their engagement and your retention in the process, among other great benefits.

However, those aren’t the only ways to praise. There are many different ways to offer praise and show your appreciation, so be creative and see what works best for you. Here are a few more creative ways to do just that:

Give public praise

Praise can be given behind closed doors or even just a quick DM in Slack or Microsoft Teams at the end of the week:

But you can also choose to make that praise public. By offering public praise, you can make the impact of that show of appreciation much more powerful.

This is especially powerful for anyone who typically works “behind the scenes” and isn’t used to receiving recognition for their work publicly.

Keep in mind that every employee is different. Some employees love public praise, while others will feel deeply uncomfortable with it.  This is why it’s important to take time to get to know everyone on your team, so you use the right kind of praise for each of your team members.

being thoughtful can really help

Give thoughtful gifts as a token of appreciation

Thoughtful, inexpensive gifts are a super easy way to show your appreciation and make a team member’s day.

For really important wins, you could get them something significant like tickets to a concert or sporting event they’ll love. However, the amount you spend is secondary to the thought you put into it; you could give them something just as meaningful for even $10 (or less).

Nate, an engineer I used to work for when I ran product at KISSmetrics, loved retired Cleveland Cavalier Mark Price. He had been doing great work recently and I wanted to show him some appreciation.

So, I found this on eBay for less than $10. The result (he posted to Instagram) speaks for itself:

Mark Price figure instagram - Workplace praise

Want to make sure you remember the little details like that, which can help you get the best possible present for your team members? Download our free 1:1 meeting template and store all your information there.

1 on 1 meeting template

Award great work with new responsibilities

Another creative way to offer praise is to reward your team members with new work and responsibilities they’re interested in.

Consider the person who has gone above and beyond on a previous project. Seek to reward the habits, actions, and behaviors you value through the work and assignments you give.

If someone stands out, allow them to take on a project they’re passionate or excited about. This can be a powerful reward, even if it’s only a small project.

This can double as not only a good opportunity to offer praise and recognition but also a great way to offer an opportunity for growth.

Praise is your most inexpensive, yet powerful tool.

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

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

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.

Further reading

Want more helpful advice on becoming a better leader and manager? Check out the posts below from the Lighthouse blog:

On leading happy teams through crisis:

If you need more ideas on motivating your team:

And if you need to improve morale or turning around underperforming employees, start here:

Finally, if you have high turnover, you’ve got your work cut out for you, so follow these tips to make a difference:


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

Then sign up for a free trial of Lighthouse. Built with best practices like what we wrote about here today, it helps you make the most of the time you invest in your people.

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