In the world of work today, more and more companies are trying to cultivate the culture of praise and recognition, where employees give one another praises openly for their achievements and capabilities. In fact, many are jumping into adopting this fancy culture, hoping to motivate and engage their employees in ways they never could.

Some companies started a praise round during weekly meetings or set up a praise wall in the company cozy corner where everyone can write down praise to others on post-its. Don’t get me wrong; I am not targeting at any particular companies.

But the question is, are you doing it the right way? Is the “praise culture” you are trying to create beneficial to your organization?

Let me walk you through some scenarios:

During the weekly company meeting, there is a default praise round where everyone has to give praise to someone. As the ball is being passed down, someone thanks a team member for offering help; someone compliments the marketing team for the excellent campaign carried out. However, behind the scenes, some went through the list of people they interacted with in the past week and chose the one relatively more praiseworthy; some repeated the praise others gave because it’s just so hard to come up with a name.

Everything seems harmonious, and as a manager, you are happy with the ‘praise culture’ you’ve cultivated in your company. What you fail to realize is how your people actually feel about this culture. Are they pressurized and forced to praise someone because they have to? Do they put much thought into the praise they offer? What’s the result of it?

More is less

Many people start to receive praises for simply performing their jobs for the sake of fulfilling the praise quota. The more they receive, the more they desire. They start to expect praises for doing their jobs and inevitably get disappointed when they suddenly don’t receive praises anymore. The original intention of praise backfires – the supposed motivation becomes the demotivating factor because other people received praises for performing their jobs, why didn’t I?

Result-driven praise culture

Who are the ones likely to receive more praises from your company, the sales people or the backend developers? While the team members that produce more visible and recognizable accomplishments receive more praises, those working on the backend are still doing their jobs diligently. For example, a salesman is likely to receive more praises than the developer for closing a large-sized deal, of course with the product the developer developed. Over time a result-driven praise culture is created, people focus on the revenue-generating activities to give praise to, and those diligently safeguarding the backyard do not get the recognition they deserve.

Wait a minute, so now you are saying praise culture is just a soft trend that is not practical in companies?

No, absolutely not.

If it is just a soft trend, why are so many companies doing it, and doing an excellent job? Successful companies such as Intel is well-known for its "Great Place to Work" recognition program, and West Monroe Partners for its “people first” vision.

Building a praise culture is not the real thing, knowing how to successfully build a healthy praise culture is.

Desiring praise is not necessarily a bad thing because essentially it motivates people. According to psychological studies, people choose their behavior based on their perceived outcome. Knowing that they will be praised motivates them not only to perform their jobs but to perform them well enough to earn praise. A culture of praise leverages on the positive psychology, where people desire to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives and to bring out the best of themselves.

Everyone loves compliments because they make us feel good about ourselves. Giving praise develops a positive self-concept in employees and leads to better performance because it meets employees’ needs for esteem and self-actualization, growth, and achievement, which is what monetary compensations cannot achieve. What’s important is to make people continuously feel good staying in the praise culture.

When is the praise culture actually working?

Let the ball roll on its own

Instead of passing down the ‘praise ball’ one by one during the praise round, let it roll on its own. When praising someone becomes voluntary, people don’t feel pressured to come up with a name. Instead, they will go through their week more carefully and sincerely and offer the most genuine praise if they choose to bring up one.

Also, different people have different comfort levels with praising others. Some might be too shy to voice out; some might think to praise their bosses in public sounds more like pleasing them. Hence, it is important for companies to grant their people the freedom to choose whom the praises are visible to in their internal communication channels.

Praise the praiseworthy

Performing a job well might not be praiseworthy; performing a job excellently definitely is. There is a fine line to be defined between the well-done and the praiseworthy events. For example, the marketing department sets the target to generate 300 inbound leads per month – hitting the target is a job well done, but receiving 400 leads is praiseworthy. Therefore, it is the managers’ and team leaders’ responsibility to set examples when giving praises – focus on the praiseworthy events, give confirmations to the jobs well done, while giving praises to the excellent jobs.

Be progress-driven, not result-driven

Not all activities directly generate revenue or increase brand awareness directly. All members of the organization contribute their parts to the daily operations. Those tech guys and the accountants deserve just as much recognition as the marketing and sales team. You need not give praise to the developer for fixing a bug, but recognition is definitely required if the bug does not re-occur for three months. Managers always have to consciously ensure praise is given fairly to each department so that it will never become the demoralizing factor but the complete opposite.

Conclusion

It is about focusing more on individuals’ progress and developments rather than the tangible achievements. If you pay attention to your employees’ personal improvements in their work and give them enough credits, they will surely be motivated and produce remarkable accomplishments in time to come. One important point to note is that praises have to be as specific as possible so that the employee will not only know he did a great job but also why it was great. Being specific does not only show that managers genuinely care about the employee’s work, but also helps the employee to be more aware of his own behaviours, leading to his progressive growth.

Praise-giving is not just a culture; it is a skill to be learned by everyone in the organization. Managers should learn and lead the team to give effective praises. Yes, it would backfire if praises were given ineffectively, insufficiently or excessively. However, through trial and error, you will be able to find the praising moments in your organizational context.