As a parent of young children, I know firsthand that positive reinforcement has a greater impact than punishment. I did not realize, until reading a study published in Harvard Business Review, the extent to which the same theory applies to adults.
The study, published in 2010, found that at Best Buy, a 0.1 percent increase in employee engagement drove $100,000 in operating income to the bottom line of each store per year.
Who would have thought that a mere .1 percent increase in something as simple as recognition could have such a large impact? That’s the power of praise which requires very little effort and yet yields so much in return.
There are two of Dale Carnegie’s leadership principles which underscore the importance of praise:
22. Begin with praise and honest appreciation- No matter the topic of conversation, beginning with praise is a critical step. Many leaders feel uncomfortable when they have to call attention to a team member’s mistake(s), which is completely natural.
By starting the conversation with sincere appreciation for perhaps, an impactful contribution the employee has made or his/her dedication to the company, a leader enables the message recipient to save face. Incidentally, leadership principle #26 states, “Let the other person save face.”
The negative feedback, complaint, etc. should then be followed by another point of praise or appreciation. More importantly, the praise must be specific. Psychologist Dr. Wayne Nemeroff, CEO and co-founder of PsyMax Solutions stated, “You want to balance praise with constructive feedback…Recall a particular situation and describe a specific behavior; acknowledge the impact the behavior or action had on the group or the project or the action or on you.”
27. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Giving praise is a testimony showing that the leader is not only monitoring the employee, but that he/she cares about the employee. By praising even the slightest improvement, leaders make their employees happier and more fulfilled. Better yet, the positive reinforcement will make an employee more excited about his or her role; with such little effort.
While praise is most effective when it is ‘hearty,’ be careful not to use too many superlatives- “hardest-working,” “most amazing,” “most dedicated,” etc. Consider writing a note of praise which carries a perceived value greater than a one hundred dollar gift card. Praise received in a hand-written note or during a face-to-face conversation is much more powerful than a quick text or email message.
The Harvard study proves that employees must be engaged, not just satisfied, to perform at their best. Engaged employees will expend all of their discretionary efforts for the good of the company, and are more likely to remain loyal.
If you are ready to discover and develop the full leadership potential of your company’s employees and turn them into effective leaders, consider enrolling in the Leadership Advantage three day seminar.
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Photo Credit: Marybootrixie