Employee Praise Is Not Simple

In the past two weeks I have heard a lot of talk about managers needing to praise their people.  They are being told that employees are hungry for praise, and that encouraging words are great motivators.  And for those managers that don’t give enough praise, it is being predicted they will lose their best people and fail to get results.

But wait!  Giving praise isn’t that simple.  It’s not something you want to spread around randomly.  Praise is complex because it’s used to accomplish a range of goals other than showing approval or appreciation.  It can also backfire when not used effectively as it can send a message very different from what was intended:

  • Mistake #1:  Praise that sends the message you are my subordinate and I’m the boss so I can judge you.  When we praise someone, it implies we have the right to sit in judgment of them, even if the judgment is positive. When delivering praise, be sensitive to signs of unequal status.  For example, calling the person into your office and delivering it from behind your desk.
  • Mistake #2:  Praise that makes an employee believe they’re being manipulated.  “Great job, Sara. Now I need you to produce two more reports by Thursday.” The manager isn’t necessarily insincere about the praise, but there is an obvious agenda. Employees learn to mistrust praise from such managers as a way to “motivate” them to do extra work.
  • Mistake #3:  Praise that is given before a reprimand or criticism to soften the blow.  Ah, the hanging “but.” If you get in the habit of using praise to soften a reprimand, employees will catch on. “Mike, your work has really improved… but you need to take more initiative.” Rest assured that the minute you say “but,” Mike forgot the praise.
  • Mistake #4:  Praise that is just disingenuous.  Sue has done a so-so report, but you don’t tell her that. Because she doesn’t seem to like you very much, you decide to use the occasion to try to get on her good side. “Excellent report,” you beam. But Sue knows it wasn’t all that good. And she sees you and your compliments as fake.

Given these mistakes, what is the secret to making praise impactful? 

  1. Don’t just give praise to praise. The manager needs to invest the time to decide that what the employee accomplished was indeed praiseworthy.  Ever heard of too much of a good thing?  If you keep giving praise without merit, they become expected and are no longer impactful.  Make sure the praise counts.
  2. Provide the specifics.  By taking the time to praise, you are able to give specific examples to the employee about what pleased you.  This can be used to reinforce that behavior for the future.
  3. Show they appreciate their employees’ talents.  Praise can demonstrate that they understand the contribution an employee makes to the organization.

In a nutshell, praise used successfully is not based on quantity but rather quality.  When used right, praise can be powerful.  Please share your comments.  Thank you.

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Walk a Mile in Your Employee Shoes

Have you heard the saying, “Don’t criticize another person’s work until you’ve tried to do it yourself?”  Good advice for managers.

I know as a leader sometimes we walk into a meeting thinking we have all the answers. As we enter the room, we think, “All I have to do is get these people to listen to what I’m about to tell them and then get them to do it.” After all, isn’t that what leaders do? They lead. Why waste time as the team searches for answers when I can just spell it out for them and save time? After all, there’s a reason I’m in a position of leadership. I have more experience and am smarter, so I might as well get to the point by telling them exactly what needs to be done and, more important, just how they need to do it.

Hold on! You might have more experience than anyone else on the team, but do you have more experience with this specific issue? You might be the smartest one in the room, but do you really know more about today’s subject than everyone else participating? And, if you do, is it still possible that you might “Learn” from what the group has to offer collectively?

I understand that it takes patience to listen. It takes time to let others have their say. But you know more times than not that you’re going to hear things that change your perspective. You’re going to “Learn” that other people have good ideas and discover small details that could make a big difference in the results. Your team is going to come up with solutions that will be better than what you could have come up with on your own.

As a manager, you have a big job. Your schedule is busy and you’re constantly on the run. I know it’s tempting to just take control and save everyone a lot of time. But if that’s your approach you’re not an effective manager. If you fail to listen to others, you’ve taken away their voices. If you don’t let them share their thoughts, you lose a wonderful teaching opportunity. If you don’t hear what they have to say, you won’t be able to evaluate their critical thinking skills.

A manager who doesn’t listen and who thinks they have all the answers needs to walk a mile in the shoes of their employees. They need to try to understand their people before they criticizes them or take away their voices completely. If you can put yourself in the place of those who work for you, you’ll see that it’s important to let them be heard. It’s important to them to be able to share their ideas. They want to contribute and, if you’ve done a good job in hiring them, they will be of real value in the process.  Have you walked a mile in your employee’s shoes?

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The Jackass and His Purchaser: A Lesson for Managers

My young son told me that he had ended his friendship with his best friend.  The story is his best friend has become friends with another boy that my son judged to be a troublemaker making his best friend one too.   I asked him what his friend has done that makes him think he will now cause trouble.   With conviction he said, “Nothing mom but you said that I should not hang around people who are troublemakers because that will make me one too.”  Wow, I had done that.  But that was not my intent or the message I wanted to send my kids.

In Aesop’s Fables, there is story I remembered called “The Jackass (Ass) and His Purchaser.”  The story goes like this:

A man wished to purchase a jackass, and decided to give the animal a test before buying him.  He took the jackass home and put him in the field with his other jackasses.  The new jackass strayed from the others to join the one that was the laziest and the biggest eater of them all.  Seeing this, the man led him back to his owner.  When the owner asked how he could have tested the jackass in such a short time, the man answered, “I didn’t even need to see how he worked.  I knew he would be just like the one he chose be his friend.”

The moral of the story is that while a person is apt to be judged by the company he (or she) keeps, that doesn’t mean that you have to choose to be like the company you keep.  People need to be judged based fairly based on their merits, actions and behavior.  I shared this with my son, and he has resumed his friendship. 

In applying this to the business world, I have seen managers judge their employees solely on what they look like, what they wear or who they associate it.  Maybe, it was ingrained in them from their parents or their own personal biases but really there is no excuse for it.  First, by doing this you are heading towards discrimination which is illegal.  Second, it is not smart business. 

Mangers should be making decisions regarding employees based on sound business practices such as an employee’s proven performance and behavior.  A manager needs to be factual and have sound documentation to eliminate the perception of biases and personal differences.  A manger should never call an employee “lazy” “troublemaker” etc. because those are judgment words.  Instead, managers need to describe the behavior forming these perceptions such as “you (employee) appear to lack motivation because you have come into work late everyday for the past two weeks, have taken an extra hour for lunch everyday, and have been missing deadlines.”

Trust me when I say I understand managers feel they need to make judgments every day, and sometimes it is a good thing. When used right, it can keep an organization out of trouble and employees out of danger (i.e. closing down because of a snowstorm). It can help managers make wise choices, rather than blindly stumbling along because they are afraid to make a judgment call. However, if a manager is going to judge an employee based on non-legitimate business reasons, be ready for the ramifications of that decision.  Maybe the donkey would have been a good worker if the man had just put him to work.  I guess we will never know.  Have you seen this in the workplace? 

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“Up in the Air” with Employee Relations

This last week I saw the movie “Up in the Air.” (Yes, I know this movie came out in 2009 but at least I finally seen it) The movie focused on the relationship between employees and their organizations.  Ryan Bingham (the main character played by George Clooney) is a corporate downsizer and a business traveler. Clooney is initially portrayed to be content with his quiet lifestyle, living and traveling alone while firing loyal employees of organizations.  It is not until his ability to travel is challenged by new innovative technology based strategies to let go of employees through web-based conferencing that he feels the need to prove that his job requires more sensitivity that computers do not offer.

When I watched the movie, it is apparent that the wave of downsizing and layoffs has taken its toll on employees. In today’s economy, employees are staring at the job market through the lens of a realist.  Individuals understand that more and more corporations are choosing to downsize in order to survive the current recession.  Many people are scared of losing their job. How you treat people really matters – to the people who leave and the people who remain as it can directly affect the morale and retention of valued, high-performing employees who are not downsized.

The movie “Up in the Air” further demonstrates how hard it is to lay off people especially a significant number, that is why organizations hire people like Ryan Bingham to do their dirty work and wanted to start using web conferencing.  However, using a web conference or other insensitive and distant medium to communicate with employees is only going to create a greater separation in the gap of trust between employee and employer.  Laying off employees is never pleasant but as a manager it is your responsibility to handle the situation with care.  Listed are some tips that managers can use:

  • Minimize the Impact:  It is important to come up with a strategic communication plan that identifies the stakeholders and who needs to be informed of the layoffs. The plan should then be put into a timeline that communicates in the order of personal impact. As an example, an affected employee would be communicated with before the employee’s coworkers are informed of the layoff. Being sensitive to what is communicated and the timing of the communication is critical in minimizing the personal impact it has on all employees.
  • Transitional Plan:  Develop a transitional plan for those being laid off. As a manager, you may want to have a severance package which can include extended health benefits, outplacement services and pay for an extended period of time. A good severance package can ease the burden and help make a positive transition for laid off employees.
  • Don’t Forget about the Remaining Employees:  Make sure there is continuous, factual communication to employees who remain. Honesty is the best policy. Engage the remaining employees in helping to identify ways to reduce costs in other areas of the organization. Share vision about the future and offer hope when possible.  In my organization when lay offs occurred, we re-engaged with employees through training sessions on topics of motivation, survivorship, and team building. 

I understand how sensitive the topics layoffs can be that is why it has taken me a long time before I decided to write about it.  Watching this movie gave me the opportunity.  I would like for you to share your experience with layoffs whether you have been laid off and want to give tips about how to cope with it to help people, you had to layoff someone or you have seen the movie and want to share your insight. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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How Social Media Reignited My Passion

I never understood Social Media.  My limited knowledge had identified it as a collective term for Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Message Boards, and LinkedIn – “anywhere you can be social and interact with others.”  Admittedly, I had a negative view about it being a distraction for employees during work time that we in HR were being forced to manage. Still, I kept hearing that Social Media was important to the future of an organization and the new generation was demanding it.  This was when I decided I had better figure out what this Social Media craze was ~ or at least learn enough about it to try and accept it.

I searched everywhere for a class that taught Social Media/Personal Branding. There was nothing like it out there.  I became frustrated.  Finally, an opportunity could not have presented itself better than in the form a class taught by Bret Simmons.  The first day started with Bret introducing personal branding and social media.  The idea behind personal branding made sense to me as it was logical as to why it is important.  It wasn’t until it became apparent that the heart of personal branding lied in focusing on “our values” and being “remarkable” so (as Bret continually emphasizes) people would start to “remark about you.” It was then I realized I had stopped breathing.  All I could think and scream in my head was there was nothing remarkable about me! I had no idea what I valued ~ I don’t even know how to use Facebook or Twitter!  How was I going to do this!

After the introduction, the class was given an opportunity to leave at the break and there will be no questions asked.  I almost left…had one foot out the door.  It was the passion about this topic from Bret and my other classmates taking the advanced level that made me hesitate long enough to stay.  It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  From this class, I have seen how remarkable my classmates are through their blogs and watched as a classmate  received a job offer because of her personal brand. 

The impact of Social Media has had a positive effect on me as well as it has helped me to:      

Find My Voice

I was not thrilled with the idea of blogging because sharing my thoughts on the internet was downright scary.  What if they reject me?  Better yet, what if I run out of things to say?  What I have discovered is that blogging has opened up something inside me where I think, plan and reflect.  It forces me to read in order to gather the input I need for my output.  It is a place where I can play with technology and ideas.  Blogging has surprised me as I have so much I have wanted to say and now I am.  I find myself tape recording blog ideas because they just pop up out of nowhere – so much for not having anything to say. My blog is a place where I have learned to collaborate.

Understand the Importance of Networking

I was never good at putting myself out there, but I have learned that using Social Media allows me to expand and understand the importance of networking. Having the ability to interact with colleagues around the country/world about the challenges facing HR professionals and leaders has resulted in my ability to adopt the latest innovations and learn about the latest mistakes in order not to repeat them. By creating my network, I have increased my access to the newest information and cutting edge tools.

Re-Ignite My Passion

I was complacent in my job.  Don’t get me wrong – I like my job but I realized I was just going through the motions.  Social Media has re-ignited my passion to grow.  I am reading the latest and greatest things going on in the HR World from thought leaders.  I can’t wait to share the things I am experiencing with the world. I am more open now and share new ideas and thoughts on important HR and leadership subjects.  Leaders are coming to me for my opinion and feedback.  Social Media is keeping me on my A game, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’m still nowhere near the front page of Google, but so far the journey to get there has been nothing but fun.

Do you have a story where Social Media changed you?  I would like to hear it.

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Sorry, You’re Overqualified – Part II

In my last blog, I challenged organizations to take a look at their hiring practices regarding employing overqualified individuals.  In this blog, I will provide tips and suggestions to applicants to help them with overcoming being overqualified.

When applying for a job below your experience level, you need to prove you’re genuinely interested in the position.  I am talking showing interest for the long term and that your advanced skills/education are not a hindrance for you performing the job, but rather are an asset to the organization.

Be Honest

Before approaching a prospective employer, ask yourself exactly why you are pursuing a lower level position.  In a down economy, many individuals apply for jobs below their skill level out of financial necessity.  But even if you are desperate, you should still apply to organizations where you really want to work, in a relevant industry, or for positions that help with your professional development.  Knowing your intentions will make your job search more rewarding, as well as allow you to convince employers of your worth to the organization along with your goals.

Emphasize Your Skills

Take a look at your resume.  Use a performance based resume format and list your relevant skills and accomplishments first, and your extensive background next.  Take qualifications and use it your advantage by focusing on skills that will make you more efficient in the position, allowing you to shine above your competition. Remember that you need to always be honest about your previous work experience; however, be sure to put emphasis on your skills and responsibilities more than your previous job titles and education.

State Your Case

This is where your cover letter is important.  In the letter be sure to include why you are interested in the position, how your skills make you valuable, and what value your qualifications will bring to the organization (i.e. innovations, more money, etc.).  The letter should help with alleviating the hesitation the organization has in hiring you. 

Turn the Tables

Prepare to answer the question “do you think you are overqualified?”  What the interviewer is really trying to find out is if you fit with their organization.  The best way to answer this question is to turn the tables and ask what their ideal candidate looks like and show what skills you have that match that description.  If the interviewer asks about salary, emphasize that you are flexible and be forthright that you are willing to do with less.  This shows that you have thought about salary and it is not the issue.  You may even turn the tables more by emphasizing that you are looking for growth opportunities; want to work for a new company, and/or broadening your horizons.

I would like to hear your comments.  What have you done to overcome the stigma of being overqualified? 

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Sorry, You’re Overqualified – Part I

A friend of mine recently shared their news over a job offer as an entry-level supervisor for a local pizza parlor.  What makes this unique is that my friend has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and had worked for a big marketing firm for four years.  My friend became jobless due to “rightsizing ~ new pc term for laid-off” of the organization. 

It was not easy for my friend to find a job.  Job interview after job interview they heard only one comment, “Sorry. We can’t hire you.  You’re overqualified.”  My friend became understandably frustrated. 

So I wanted to find out what were the reasons why my friend couldn’t get a job?  In researching this and from my experience in Human Resources, there was a litany of reasons given by hiring managers as to why they hesitate to hire an overqualified person:

  • The overqualified person will only work for us a short period of time until they find something better or the economy improve so why invest time and money into training them only to have them leave.
  • There is no way this overqualified person will be satisfied with what we are willing to pay them.  Look at their resume.
  • The overqualified person will not fit in with our corporate culture because they will make the current employees feel inadequate and uncomfortable.
  • The overqualified person will be hard to manage because they will be working at a level well below their capabilities.
  • The overqualified person will not be satisfied and/or happy with this job since it will no way be challenging or fulfilling.

These seem like reasonable objections.  However, I want to ask an organization why you wouldn’t want to hire the best talent possible.  An “overqualified” person can bring motivation, ideas, efficiencies, wisdom, maturity, and competence that are priceless.  How can any organization that wants to be successful pass up such value propositions? 

  • If a person is overqualified and perhaps because of the economy they are willing to work for lower pay or at a lower job level and maybe they will only stay for three months, why wouldn’t you see what they could bring?  In my humble opinion, they can bring more value in terms of experience to the company than the qualified person can bring in three years.
  • Maybe the overqualified person has had a great career but now wants a change of pace.  The job they are applying for now meets those needs.  No hidden motives, hire them!
  • In today’s tough economy a young college graduate struggles to find a job, and yet are seen as overqualified for many positions.  That college graduate can bring enthusiasm, energy, and intelligence to the job that would be a great asset to any company and perhaps they will become a future leader for you.
  • What about a senior executive who cannot find another high level position because of the lack of available top positions.  Why can’t they be a regional manager or department head?  The value proposition they could bring the company would be innovation, efficiencies, and expertise that could turn into new revenue, production, or cost savings.

I challenge hiring managers to ask themselves, “why am I not willing to seek out exceptional talent from a person, overqualified or not, that may bring growth and opportunity to my organization?” The answer should be simple.  Please share your comments.

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