Praise or Poison

“Well done!”

Praise and compliments are like sweet, savory chocolates. They satisfy the human desire for recognition.

Compliments serve as effective tools for steering employees in a direction you see fit. A fitting example of this is illustrated in Ken Blanchard’s “The One Minute Manager”. Blanchard suggests that if you want to direct your team members towards a specific end state, you should be handing out either “one-minute praises” or “one-minute reprimands”.  Be that as it may, I find there to be little to no difference between employees manipulated by carrot and stick and lab mice that are rewarded with food and punished with electric shocks.

I see this approach more as a “training” method as opposed to a management endeavor. Though it may be challenging, I believe there is a more effective method.

I refrain from complimenting my employees and instead try to express my most sincere gratitude for their hard work. And rather than reprimanding my employees, I provide explicit communication when we’re not headed in the direction that I intended.

There are three main reasons for doing so.

[1] Establishment of a Horizontal Relationship

I’m not advocating working horizontally. The order line still needs to be vertical. However, I want to work with my team members on an equal footing. From one person to another. As illustrated in “The Courage to be Disliked”, compliments put my employees and I in a vertical relationship.

[2] Independent Employees

I do not wish for members of my team to be reliant on my praise. If an employee’s singular factor of motivation is the praise and recognition from their supervisor, that employee is probably better off finding another job. This way, if that individual ever gains full autonomy over their work, they’ll be able to find their own way and not waver.

[3] Plan Long-term

Utilization of the carrot-stick method may elicit short-term behavioral changes but doesn’t do much fundamentally for an individual’s growth. No one is perfect. This includes myself. I hope to encourage individuals to discover purpose and direction they truly believe is right instead of short-term directions as a result of praise from me.

Praise and appraisal are two completely different things. The only thing I refrain from doing is blatant praise. I am a firm believer in regular skill appraisal and rewards that compensate an employee’s performance. Likewise, reward systems need to be evaluated from a long-term perspective as well.

A gift of chocolate may be the result of good intentions. But its sweetness is accompanied by the side effects of impeding on a diet also. It’s up to the leader to decide whether team members become Pavlov’s dogs or an independent individual.

Likewise, it’s up to the team member to recognize that there is no blue bird hidden in a supervisor’s praise.

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