4 Keys To Praise

Help someone feel a little better about themselves and they will like you a lot. ~ Lord Chesterfield

We say “Thanks” and “Nice job” and the people on the receiving end of those words, may feel that we are simply saying “Whatever.”

We throw around the words ‘thank you,’ ‘excellent,’ and ‘perfect’ so much that as a culture we have become numb to them. Worse yet, we say them so often that they mean nothing to the speaker or the receiver!

The value of our recognition is measured in the effort we expend to actually appreciate another person. Not just their deeds – but them personally. My wife would rather receive a misspelled poem I wrote, instead of flowers I buy from a vendor on the freeway offramp. She told me that.

The best recognition is personal. The communication surrounding that recognition must be real and should be shared in the way that person wants to be recognized. Not the way we think would make great recognition, rather recognition individually designed specifically for that person. In this way, we make recognition personal and meaningful to the receiver, and isn’t that the goal?

Recognition for top performers is easy. The recognition and praise I am referring to is the recognition done on a daily basis with middle performers. One of the fatal errors we can make, as discussed by Steven Brown in 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make and How to Avoid Them, is that we only recognize top performers. We fail when we do not recognize the other 80% of our team, those who are not top 20% performers.

Top 20% performers expect and get more bonuses, promotions, and manager recognition. However, remember that without the middle 80%  performing,  the organizational goal cannot be achieved. The business will not grow solely due to the success of the top 20% – it takes everyone to reach the business goals and everyone needs recognition.

Here are 4 Keys to Praise:


Gain clear specifics and details for how each person wants to be recognized and what specific appreciation they value. You may ask as part of the interview process, or during a 1:1, “As you do a great job on a specific project, and I wanted to recognize you – what are some ways you would like to be recognized?” or “Can you think of some past recognition you have received, that was particularly meaningful?”

How people visualize being recognized shapes many aspects of their daily reasons for performance – are they giving paycheck effort or discretionary effort? Some people want to be on stage – others would view that kind of recognition as horrific. Ask questions to uncover their stories of good or awful recognition, and plan accordingly. If they like motorcycles, gardening, or ice-cream, a magazine or coupon could be outstanding individual recognition.


In verbal or written communications, we need to recognize an individual’s value. The more personal the better. If they have a value statement in their office or in the signature line of their e-mail, please make a note of that to yourself. To tie that value into your recognition of them can be very powerful. As we start our recognition and say things in appreciation of their integrity, commitment, dedication, courage, intellect, passion, or loyalty – by including their values you are setting in motion a chance for your recognition to be memorable. Very memorable.

Specific Actions

As we recognize their value, it sets up the link of their deed in-line with their deepest beliefs. For leaders to find a way to link activity with values creates deep appreciation. This is the kind of appreciation others value both in the presenter and for the recipient.


If we want to build a strong team, it begins with a purpose larger than individual or personal goals. When we tie personal recognition of their values and deeds to an organizational goal – we are saying they are valued and they are contributing. That team member is playing a great role in shaping the culture of that team. That encourages everyone that the culture is important and individual recognition is for a greater good.

One of my best praise efforts came from me hand-writing a letter and mailing it to the spouse of team members when they accomplished something that was valuable. I thanked the spouse for their role and their support given to my employee despite the long hours required, the extra travel, and the mental or emotional time away from family in order to help us achieve an important business goal. They told me they valued that recognition.

When we praise 4 times for every 1 comment of correction things move forward, and a culture becomes more positive.



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