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Praising Up

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After a presentation about the importance of praise and recognition at work today individuals often say something like: “These concepts are great-I wish I could get my manager to thank and appreciate me more!” To which we often reply, “When was the last time you praised your manager?” This often catches people by surprise, as if a manager doesn’t or shouldn’t need thanks or praise. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Everybody needs to be appreciated for the job they are trying their best to do and-contrary to popular belief-managers are people too. “But,” an occasional employee protests, “that’s why they get paid the big bucks.” As if to be in a position that pays more money would change the basic needs of a person to feel appreciated and valued in how they spend the bulk of their waking hours. Employees don’t just work for money and managers who are making more money need to be appreciated as much as anybody.

Besides, praising up can be an effective strategy for starting to get managers to focus on the positive things people are doing, instead of just having them react to mistakes people make or to only focus on their own jobs or crises as they arise — as managers can be prone to do. If you wait for your manager to get enlightenment on how to treat people better in the workplace, you might find it to be a long wait, indeed, without your offering some help and encouragement along the way.

Empathy plays a big part in being able to effectively recognize others, especially when the “others” are our bosses. Keep in mind that she or he may be under more stress and pressure from above (and below) than even you realize. A sincere thanks that says you appreciate a particular behavior or a certain value such as openness or integrity goes a long way toward reinforcing the very behavior you value. It also sends a message about your ability to see the “big picture” and to relate to the total work environment, not just your little acre of the world.

We’re not talking about being a sycophant, a “yes” man or woman, or offering an abundance of vague, flowery flattery. The guidelines for effective praise hold for managers as well as they do for any individual. You need to be timely, sincere, and specific in selecting when, what, and how you thank your manager. It can be as simple as saying to your manager: “Gary, it really meant a lot to me yesterday when you brought our new client by my office to introduce me and explain my function in the department. He’s not someone I would typically get a chance to meet, and it really made me feel that you valued having me as part of the team.” More times than not, given this interaction, your manager will be more likely to be on the lookout for additional occasions to acknowledge you and your work.

Better yet, you can make focusing on the positive a routine part of your relationship with your manager. A friend of one of the authors, who is general manager for a printing company, recently told about a new employee who, during her first week on the job announced to him: “Once a month I’m going to come into your office and tell you about all the great things I’ve been doing. You’re going to agree with me. I’m going to do this because I need to hear that you appreciate my efforts in order to keep charged up to do my best work.”

He agreed to the arrangement and after about five or six months at the end of one of their review sessions the employee exclaimed: “You’re getting better at this!” The general manager had to agree, in part because he never took the time to thank or appreciate employees much before, and he realized that not only was it important to her and other employees, but given the chance, he enjoyed giving praise as well.

A few years ago, one of the authors became the manager of a newly formed team. Once they realized that Dee valued honest feedback, they took the time to coach and praise her. This was a real learning experience for all and by “recognizing up” when Dee displayed the behaviors the group expected and needed, the team helped chart a path that made it very successful. Dee-as are most managers-was grateful for her team’s honesty and for the managerial growth their feedback gave her.

Effectively “recognizing up” can have a powerful impact on leaders at all levels of the organization. One top leader at an organization operated on the old “I pay them, why should I have to thank them?” theory until he began to receive specific feedback from his employees. The recognition he received let him know that what he was doing was right and was exactly what his team members needed to do their jobs more effectively. As he analyzed his feelings about receiving praise, he knew that he had neglected a critical factor in the art of motivating employees. Needless to say, he became a “born again” recognizer and the company’s most avid champion for recognition.

As we consult with organizations, we often get to see the positive results of “recognizing up” firsthand. Recently, one of our clients initiated a process to help people recognize each other for providing great internal and external customer service, for demonstrating exceptional leadership skills and for providing outstanding support for their team. We were very pleased to hear that a young man in the organization had felt comfortable letting the CEO know he had been his “ROCK.” How? With very little notice, the CEO personally signed numerous certificates to support a training class the young man conducted. A small thing for a CEO to do, you may think, but it was important to that young man. He wanted to let his leader know how much he appreciated not only the CEO’s action, but his underlying support as well. His CEO was letting him know that he thought the man’s work was important. Recognition flowed both ways that day and created a resounding “win-win.”

Think of the things your manager does that you appreciate and make a point to thank him or her for doing those things. And if you want to encourage more of some certain behavior from your manager, act to recognize that behavior when you see it, as well. Remember, “you get what you reward” is a fundamental of human nature that works equally well with managers as it does with any employee.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com.

Praising Up
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About Bob Nelson
Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob's FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com. WebProNews Writer
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