Do you make this mistake with praise??

Phillips makes a compelling case that saying things like “good job” (which I do all the time with our son) actually sends the message to kids that they are only good when it is stated by a parent. She argues this sets up a situation where children resist challenges when things get difficult, since they get too focused on results instead of persisting through challenges.

As I’m changing my ways at home, I’m struck by how often this shows up in the workplace too. I’ve made the case many times that positive recognition is an important discipline for leaders when people do things right. However, I’ve missed emphasis on a critical component:

Recognition of effort, in addition to results.

And yes, I know that giving too much attention to effort is akin to heresy in organizations where bottom-line results are always top of mind. Virtually every client I’ve worked with puts emphasis on endgame results through formal events, awards ceremonies, and recognition programs…as they should.

Unfortunately, leaders often miss the connection between praise for effort and its influence on future results. Some managers communicate little or nothing as people work diligently, sometimes for years, to get to a rewarded result.

Here’s why praising effort also matters:

With few exceptions, there is almost always a clear connection with appropriate effort and end results. Salespeople sell more if they make more connections. Customer service people get higher ratings if they listen well. If you know an activity the will lead to a later result, you have the chance to influence the result before it happens.

Of course we should continue to recognize the results when the happen…as long as we also recognize that once the results are in, we can’t influence them. However, encouraging people who are putting in the right effort today keeps people engaged now and working towards future results.

If asked, most of us would much rather work for a manager who praised both effort and results. So, let’s be the manager we’d want for ourselves. Find an opportunity this week to give praise where today’s efforts will lead to the right outcomes, long-term.


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