Recognise This! – Specific, detailed, sincere praise is never too much.

I’ve had people respond to my posts on frequent, timely recognition with a concern that recognition too frequently given makes the recognition irrelevant over time. Bnet recently published an article along this line, but with an important twist. An excerpt:

“This executive retreat reminded me of the failure of the self-esteem movement. This held that if you praise kids a lot and give them all prizes for everything (‘everyone’s a winner’), you will make them more capable. But whilst it is true that expectations influence outcomes, it is not true that saying everyone’s a winner makes it true. In fact – it may have just the opposite effect.

“As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s landmark research showed, if kids believe that they are smart, then when the work gets hard, they give up.  Not being able to do something instantly makes them feel stupid and hopeless, so they quit.  On the other hand, if you praise qualities and actions – not self-image – kids will persist with difficult tasks and achieve more.”

That last line in bold is the twist. And it could not be more correct. Frequency itself isn’t the problem. It’s what’s being recognised.

Teresa Amabile’s recent research (published in The Progress Principle) proves the necessity of recognising and praising progress, not just achievements of BHAGs. Recognising progress, not just results, is also why we so strongly advocate recognising employees based on their demonstration of what matters most to you – your core company values. Reinforcing these values (and their importance) in this way also makes the abstract come alive.

Specific recognition, as I discussed in yesterday’s post, is also critical to ensuring the power of recognition is sustained over the long term. A casual “thank you,” whilst noted, does lose efficacy if that’s all an employee ever hears. More important is pausing to take the time to notice, appreciate and very specifically thank a colleague for what they did that made a difference.

Can you ever give too much praise?