It’s a fact: simple measures work best these days, particularly when it comes to giving genuine thanks to employees. Gone are the days where employees expect a lot of extras and companies use less complicated and creative ways to engage employees.
Drawing on examples from my own career as well as stories from others where bumpers stickers and sticky notes became treasured badges of thanks for a job well done, it’s apparent authentic praise, in whatever form, goes a long way toward creating engagement.
Amazing as it may sound, giving simple thanks can be less than easy in some companies. In a 2007 article. BusinessWeek careers columnist and author Liz Ryan asked: “Is Praising Employees Counterproductive?” Some managers have an irrational fear, Ryan writes, that too much praise can “spoil” a good employee.
After exploring what she sees as the basis for some of this fear, Ryan concludes this: Praise is a key motivator but effectiveness hinges on the praise being credible.
“Of course, you can’t go around praising people all the time, even when they’re doing a great job, and you should never praise people when they don’t deserve it.  If you praise people nonstop your complimentary words will lose their effectiveness as a motivator. If you give praise when it’s not deserved, you’ll lose  your credibility and undermine the whole group’s efforts.”
It’s all a matter of style, of course. But the following examples provide some solid tips to get HR managers and company leaders started on developing a program that gives well-deserved and credible thanks to employees:

  1. Don’t praise the employee, praise their work. Gary Vikesland writes on that it’s important to be specific and target abilities or work when handing out compliments. Furthermore, it’s best to be specific and make you’re your praise has a purpose. (
  2. Work to build an organization that has a “climate of positive reinforcement”. Bruce L. Katcher, president of The Discovery Group, says a healthy organization makes praise part of the culture. These companies have supervisors frequently overheard saying: Good point!  I’m glad you brought that up!  I really appreciate that!  Good job!  Well done!  (And my favorite 🙂 Thank you!
  3. Praise in public, advises the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) in its five tips for praise “Acknowledging people in public accomplishes two important things. The employees feel even better as they are recognized in front of their peers. In addition, public praise is one way of reminding other employees of what you want from them.”

Great insights indeed!
One past employer never praised anyone.  Anyone.  He thought praising good work would make other workers envious and feel left out. Ya think?!?!?  Of course it would!  That’s the idea.

  • Praise good work and everyone wants a piece of the action.
  • Praise good work and then employees know what you value.
  • Praise good work and employees want more.
  • Praise good work and everyone gets in on it.
  • Praise good work and employees praise each others’ work.

To paraphrase that great American sage, Forest Gump: “Praise is a praise does.”
Or, to repeat one of “One Minute Manager” guru Ken Blanchard‘s basic tenets: “catch someone doing something right”.
That’s it: catch someone doing something right = praise.
Do it.  It’s free; it’s appreciated; it builds great organizations.

Rick Kiley is President of gThankYou, LLC, based in Madison, WI.  gThankYou® Certificates of Gratitude™ are one way savvy companies demonstrate commitment to employees’ great work. The company is best known for its Turkey Gift Certificates, Ham Gift Certificates, and Grocery Gift Cards.

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