The Dangers of Praise
Praising people (and noticing their strengths) is important as it builds confidence and self-awareness as to what people are doing right. However, praise for praises sake and non-specific praise can actually do more harm than good.
Recently I worked with an organisation where senior leaders refused to give constructive feedback to their underperforming employees. Instead, they simply refused to talk to them or give them any work – a process called ‘withering on the vine’ - in the hope that the underperformer would decide to leave and could finally be replaced. In some cases the process took 3 years! Clearly that is not the way to a build a high performing organisation. Perhaps if the leaders had ready my article on Courage that I posted last month, this all could have been avoided!
On the flip side, modern parenting seems to be all about building children’s self-esteem, by showering children with constant praise even for completing quite ordinary tasks, “Well done William! You’ve woken up! What an amazing boy you are!” These parenting habits have seeped into the workplace, particularly as generation Y has joined the workforce.
If you are unspecific in your praise or you over use it, you could be achieving the absolute opposite of your good intentions:
- you may be inviting complacency
- you might be interpreted as saying that performance is about pleasing someone
- you may be creating resentment when you don’t tell them how amazing they are
- you might invite a fear of failure – I won’t praise you again if you get something wrong
As I suggested above, feedback does have a place in building confidence and self-awareness. However, its primary role is to promote learning and performance improvement. It is about providing information on someone’s performance, behaviour or understanding and helping them work out what they need to do to have a better result in the future. This could mean an even better result in the future when things have gone well or are going well.
Your role as a leader is creating a climate of 'healthy dissatisfaction’ whereby even when people do well, they feel that things can still be improved. It is not simply a case of pass and fail but one of continually raising the bar. This means linking feedback to challenge - always encourage people to challenge themselves, set stretching goals - all while ensuring that people feel that it is ok to fail.
The best feedback you can give someone is feedback that provides them with the most helpful information to get things right or do things better in the future – it should really be called feedforward – not feedback!