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Emma Littmoden

The Living Leader


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Living Leader Learnings: Why saying ‘well done’ just isn’t enough


The challenge

A sales team leader at a mobile technology company asks:
“I am constantly telling people at work that they have done a good job. I say ‘well done’ all the time, but it doesn’t really seem to make a difference. I do sometimes feel a bit like a broken record. How can I make my words have more impact and also feel more authentic – do you have some tips, please?”
The solution
Firstly, let me say I think it’s great that you bother to say ‘well done’ at all as we have many clients who complain that they don’t even get that.
Is it important to tell an individual when they have done a good job? Of course it is – and there is a very good reason why. How do you feel when someone tells you, with meaning, that you have done a good job?
You feel good and, when you feel good, you think better and, therefore, perform better. Isn’t that the role of a leader – to get each member of their team performing at their best?
So why is telling them ‘well done’ not making a difference? Well, there may be a couple of things going on here.
Firstly, I wonder why and how you are saying it. Do you say it because you know that it’s the right thing to do – management skills have taught you that – or are you saying it because you really mean it?
If it’s the former, you can be pretty sure that staff will know it. So not only might your statement have no positive impact, but it could actually have a negative effect as people will know that it is not genuine.
Secondly, even if you are being genuine, your praise is not specific enough. Giving unspecific praise about what exactly it is you value means that recipients will not be clear about what they are being praised for or, indeed, what they should do more of.
Powerful leadership behaviour
Let’s say, for example, that one of your team has just written a tender for a potential new client that you would really like to win. If you say your usual ‘well done’, how is that person likely to feel?
But you could also say: “This is an excellent piece of work and I particularly liked the way that you presented it. It is in a format that is very easy-to-read, with all of the benefits powerfully highlighted.”  
You have now said very clearly that what you valued was the method of presentation and the fact that the benefits were highlighted. Therefore, the likelihood is that, when the next tender comes along, the person concerned will know precisely what it is you think is good and attempt to do it even better that time.
This means that you have not only assisted them in understanding how they can improve their performance, but you have also demonstrated that you appreciate their work.
So which approach would have more impact on you personally, do you think?
Noticing what people are doing well and telling them sounds really simple, and yet it is one of the most powerful leadership behaviours that you can demonstrate.
Say it with meaning and make it precise, and you could see amazing things happen. Relationships improve, motivation increases, performance takes an upturn and the workplace becomes a nicer place to be – which, in turn, improves performance even more because employee engagement goes up.
So – keep up the ‘well done’, yes. But make it clear and specific – and use it with passion and authenticity.
Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership programme provider, The Living Leader.

One Response

  1. Praise

    Very good article, explaining an incredibly simple, but rarely used concept. If you want someone to repeat good performance tell them what they did well !

    When emphasising this point in Performance Management Training I use a pnemonic to maximise the impact of praise


    D = Describe what you observed using an appropriate adjective. If the piece of work was "brilliant" say so, dont be shy. Equally, dont overdo it, by saying everything is fantastic, or the impact will soon wane.

    E = Example, tell them exactly what was good about it, as illustrated in this article, so it can be repeated.

    E = Effect ; Where you can, go on to talk about the impact the good performance has or will have on the team, customers, business etc Make the business link !

    P = Personalise ; Express a personal view eg " I was very impressed with xxxxxxxx" "Thats one of the best presentations I have seen…." From what I have seen, I think you have the potential to take on XYZ responsiblity in the future.


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