Grandparenting on Balboa Island, summer 2010
Yesterday I got a call from my oldest daughter, April. She said, “I don’t know what you said to Savannah last night, but whatever it was, she was delighted. She was absolutely beaming when she hung up the phone.”
Savannah is my granddaughter. On Sunday night, Savannah made a batch of snickerdoodle cookies. My wife was visiting when Savannah pulled them out of the oven and brought one home for me. Later I called Savannah to tell her how much I had enjoyed the cookie and what a good little baker she is. April filled me in on the rest of the story.
April said that when Savannah answered the phone, she didn’t know who Savannah was talking to, but she knew it was someone who loved her. She said she could see the pleasure coming off her, and watched as Savannah’s smile got bigger and bigger, witnessing the pride and joy and self-confidence light her up. “Dad, she was just glowing.”
When Savannah hung up, April asked, “Who was that?”
“Papa. He liked my cookies.” April said she was grinning from ear to ear.
I tell you that little story, not to demonstrate my world-class grandparenting skills (though clearly it does), but to illustrate what a difference praise can make. To all of us. And it’s benefits and impact are just as important in the business world as they are in family life.
In their book, The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization, authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, explore the idea of praise. They call it “cheering.” They note that cheering is the “secret sauce” that makes the difference in truly productive, effective teams and that “the more embedded cheering is in the organization’s daily life, the more teamwork flourishes naturally.” (Emphasis added.)
Gostick and Elton performed a 350,000-person study, as well as explored dozens of high-performing companies. They found that to be effective, praise should be positive, immediate, specific, close, and shared.
The first, praise should be positive. That seems obvious. But this means that you emphasize accomplishment rather than speaking about how much better a person has become, or taking the opportunity to insert a sly comment about how you wish they could now tackle this other problem with as much tenacity. Praise should be free and open-handed. Root for people. Check your own insecurities and jealousies at the door.
The second, praise should be immediate. This is clearly illustrated in my little vignette with Savannah. She knew I liked her cookie because I called her right after I ate it, when the moment and the effort were both still fresh in our minds. I will see Savannah in a couple of days as we spend Thanksgiving together and I could have planned to mention it to her then, but it clearly wouldn’t have been nearly as meaningful four days later. The closer the praise is to the event, the greater its impact.
I talk about the third principle a lot in my Creating Connections seminar. When you praise or cheer, be as specific as possible. Every week before our team meeting at Quma, we take a moment to do “Wins and Acknowledgements.” This is more effective if, instead of telling everyone what a great job Jennie is doing in the office, I recall and share a specific moment where I saw Jennie juggling two phone lines and simultaneously calmly and kindly helping someone in our store. If I can verbally recreate the moment for the team, then everyone has a mental picture of Jennie’s skills and talents, and Jennie has the clear message that she is seen and appreciated.
Fourth, cheer closely. This means that you praise in the person’s environment. When you are praising an individual for their performance on the team, do it front of the team. Recognize and appreciate people in their natural environment. If you’re a manager, get out of your office and recognize them in front of their peers. In the story with Savannah, her whole family could see that she had done something wonderful. This caused her brothers and sister to chime in on the cheering as well. She told her mom later that she wants to make cookies every Sunday.
Finally, share the praise. The more praise in your culture, the more successful you will be at achieving your goals. This means that praise doesn’t just need to come “from the top down.” Create experiences where peers and coworkers have a chance to share praise about each other. Peers are often the ones who give the most effective positive reinforcement because they know best the circumstances of someone’s outstanding performance.
Praise is the little thing that makes the biggest impact. As Gostick and Elton point out, “…cheer is, of course, our favorite aspect of break-through teams, because it’s so much fun and creates such measurable results.” I’m sure all of our teams can benefit from more fun and measurable results. So, Cheer! Praise! Acknowledge! Give thanks! No matter your team, your organization, your corporate culture, or your family dynamics, praise can change your world.
I’m interested in your thoughts.