Nothing is more effective than sincere, accurate praise,
and nothing is lamer than a cookie-cutter compliment.
During a coaching session, my client, a young expatriated European woman new to the US work environment, expressed how baffled she felt after her boss publicly and frequently praised her work, to the point that sometimes she was embarrassed.
However, at her annual performance review, she didn’t get the promotion or the salary raise that she was expecting to do such a “good job.”
In the US, people are used to positive reinforcement since childhood. Parents, teachers, and adults are always encouraging even the most insignificant actions. When a child ties his shoes, eats her food, or finishes her homework, we empower them with an expressive “good job!”
This supportive phrase is so often used that it has become part of the American popular language.
In many countries, praise or even simple recognition is unusual and only delivered when an outstanding performance surpasses expectations.
Easy recognition could be perceived as superficial and manipulative; hence people are raised with the responsibility to do their work to the best of their abilities with no expectations in return.
In my client’s case, it is clear that both she and her supervisor made a faux pas in cultural agility, they disregarded the substantial variations of recognizing employees across different countries. But what created confusion was the fact of receiving many expressions of recognition and very little feedback.
Since behavioral scientists established the effects of recognition in talent retention, employee satisfaction, engagement, happiness, and well-being in the workplace, companies and managers haven’t stopped generating innovative ways to motivate and inspire their employees through recognition.
An organization’s culture and climate can significantly improve by focusing on the positivity that comes from establishing employee connections based on respect and appreciation.
We all have experienced that when we feel recognized, we put our best work forward. For many, there is nothing more inspiring and motivating than having ownership in a project, even a small one, while knowing that our work adds value to the outcome.
However, there is a difference between showing recognition and appreciation. Many times, we misinterpret our intentions by leaning too much on recognition. Often than not, a genuine “thank you” will better express our sense of gratitude towards an employee that has gone beyond her job description. It will probably not be a great motivator over time, but when the feeling is candid and sincere, it will go much further than a worthless pat on the back, which could create false expectations and later disappointment.
Gratitude is a universal gesture, a human connector with common and unequivocal interpretation, and no territorial or cultural borders. We can never go wrong by being thankful.
Nowadays, employees expect meaningful and honest recognition from their leaders, by giving timely feedback, identifying and appreciating the impact of their contributions to the organization. Employees also appreciate receiving comments from other people in their work circle and being recognized by their peers. Heartfelt kudos from the team is a great way to show and feel valued. There are innumerable opportunities to show people how much we value their jobs in our globalized working landscape. But, its effectiveness as a real motivator will depend on how recognition is supported and delivered. Successful leaders will be those willing to communicate feedback and praise with accuracy, integrity, and authenticity.