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Compliments Pay Off
by Mike McKinley

Bumblebees can't fly, according to the science of aerodynamics. But we've all seen bumblebees confound science. Like bumblebees, employees can achieve far more than they appear to be capable of if they are appreciated and complimented.

Near the top of the rewards sought by employees from their jobs is the feeling that “I'm making a contribution. My job is important to the company.” Compliments induce that feeling.

A common complaint of alienated employees is that nobody notices them. Whether they work hard or they hardly work, the response of their supervisors is the same--indifference. Some bosses seem to live by the credo A word of praise shall never pass MY lips.

But with compliments, a boss can develop a worker's positive self-image--and the worker will strive to live up to that image, thereby activating the classic self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, a supervisor's treatment of an employee can transform a less than productive employee into a highly productive staff star.

The Power of Praise
“That was a great job, Jenny. I've never seen anybody as creative and tireless as you.”

“I enjoyed reading that report, Jim. You did your homework and I'm sure it'll pay off.”

Words like these from the boss are sunshine on a cold day, a chocolate eclair, and vacation all rolled up into one. Judge from your own experience to evaluate the truth of this statement.

Employees usually do what they believe is expected to them. So, if a supervisor sets objectives and standards of superior performance in a situation where such expectations didn't exist, the result will be an increase in productivity.

Some 300 formal research projects proved that what we expect of people usually becomes reality if we set realistic objectives. In one project, two Harvard researchers tested nonverbal IQs of students in an elementary school and randomly labeled 20% of them as intellectual bloomers.

What happened? At the end of the school year, the bloomers achieved significantly greater progress than their classmates, including improved IQ scores. The researchers said that teachers anticipated superior performance and treated the bloomers as if they would achieve more.

Marginal performers achieve much more if they believe that their supervisor believes they can. But high-potential individuals can fail miserably if they think their boss believes they'll fail.

So, praise is worth considering. After all, it costs nothing for a manager to open his or her mouth and let compliments come out.

How to Do It
The power of praise and compliments--less tangible than computers, capital improvements, and TV advertising though they may be--can be applied in these ways to boost staff productivity:
  • Express confidence repeatedly in individuals and in the entire staff.
  • Enthusiastically introduce new employees as people with potential.
  • Evaluate positively and with empathy.
  • Compliment employees regularly.
  • Use employee evaluations as a chance for you and the employee to get to know each other better and for you to convey a constructive estimate of the employee's performance matched against admittedly high standards.
  • Keep nonverbal messages positive. For example, call on all employees during a meeting. Don't ignore one of them and call on all others.
  • Compliment with gusto. Faint praise, as it is called, sometimes is interpreted by an employee as the result of a laborious effort to find SOMETHING good to say.
Instead of just walking by an employee and never slowing your pace while you toss off a hardly heard “Good job,” stop, look the employee in the eye, and say “Bruce, fanTAStic job! Really liked it.”

And if you invite Bruce into the office to convey your compliment, then you're a master manager. You will have earned greater productivity and effectiveness for nothing more than a compliment.

Compliment imaginatively. Write letters, and send them to employees at home. You might write “Thanks for all your work while I was gone, Bill. I appreciate it very much. I felt good about having you take care of things.” Perhaps you can imagine other communications dictated by the nature of your business or by social mores.

Finally, to put yourself in a praising frame of mind, routinely praise yourself. Say “Hey, I'm worth something. My personal worth is measured by my contribution to this company, not just by the size of my paycheck.”

Remember: Employees who aren't flying now can be motivated to fly. Often it takes only sincere compliments to multiply staff productivity.

Michael McKinley, CSP, CPAE, is a professional speaker who builds and delivers personalized presentations on business topics for corporations and professional associations. He owns McKinley Companies, Inc., whose Thinking Publications division publishes resources for speech-language pathologists. Mike's Alive! Alive! Associates division markets his speaking and consulting services.

Copyright Michael McKinley. All Rights Reserved.

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