Types of Motivational Praise a Boss Should Avoid Giving

By Harvard Business Review
August 21, 2018

These methods are meant to be well-intended, but workers say they come across as insincere, obligatory and offensive.

When leaders look like they are just applying some “motivational technique” they read about, people see right through the superficial, obligatory effort. Here are three of the most offensive forms of praise employees may receive from  supervisors.

Drive-by praise: Busy managers often have to squeeze in their recognition efforts to already crowded schedules. So they’ll pop their heads into people’s offices on the way to other meetings and say things like, “Hey, great job this morning at the pipeline review.” On the surface, these efforts seem innocuous, but to recipients, they can feel impersonal, uninformed and inadequate. Instead, take a moment to ask the employee how the work was accomplished. Acknowledge the sacrifice and personal challenges in completing the task. This shows employees that they, and their work, matter.

RELATED: Having Trouble Staying Motivated? Science Unlocks a Possible Reason

Making stuff up: Consider this scenario: During a break from an executive team meeting, a leader turns to his direct report and says, “Just so you know, I was telling the big boss and his team this morning what an amazing job you’re doing.” The only problem? He never did. Employees know when their managers are being insincere. Whether made-up stories are well-intended or not, they erode the employee’s trust in the leader.

Guilt gratitude: It’s incredibly awkward when a manager who feels guilty tries to overcompensate with effusive expressions of appreciation. Leaders who may have asked for a sacrificial effort to meet a deadline will reflexively say things like, “You have no idea how much I appreciate this. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t gotten this to me today. I owe you!” Or even worse, if their guilt is particularly intensified, they’ll do it in public, which feels especially manipulative.

RELATED: Motivation Improves When Supervisors Commit to Training

It’s a leader’s job to create a recognition-rich environment in which employees choose to give their best. That starts by ensuring recognition serves the needs of the recipient, not the motivator.

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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