What Managers Should (and Should Not) Say and Do When Publicly Praising Employees

Today, we want to deep dive into that idea: once you have developed a method of recognizing exemplary employees, or even if there is already a system in place, how does a manager publicly praise an employee? More specifically: let’s answer those tough, awkward questions, such as, what do you say? What should (or shouldn’t) you do? 

You Should: Make It Known

According to one study, three out of four companies have some kind of employee recognition program, but only 58% of employees actually know about them. In order for the employee to feel recognized, her colleagues should already know about the program and/or award(s) that can be earned and most importantly must be bought into it. If the rest of the company either doesn’t take public recognition seriously or doesn’t know that it happens and is worth pursuing, then everything else will be for naught. Make sure that your team is invested in the idea and is fully present (mentally and physically) when you spotlight a specific employee. 

You Should Not: Make Any Promises 

Symbolic awards — the kind that you earn for outstanding performance — do not, and perhaps should not, be tied to monetary awards, prizes, or the like. The award should be sought after simply for its own sake, part of which is the public recognition of one’s talents, actions, and outputs.

Do not make promises, especially those you can’t keep, about what “may come down the line” or what “tends to happen to talent such as this.” Particularly if you are speaking in a public setting, everything you say is considered on the record, and you could face backlash later from your superiors or the employee himself if whatever it is you vaguely mentioned does not come to fruition. Don’t sabotage your own good intentions. 

You Should: Be Specific

“There’s a reason that we’re all here today, recognizing [insert employee’s name here].” Yes, there IS a reason, but if you don’t name that reason, then the audience and the employee in question will leave wondering what exactly led to the employee being recognized.

Forbes.com endorses this idea: “Random affirmations are much less meaningful than those tied to a business goal.” Name quantifiable actions that led to success for the team as a whole. List specific incidents and interactions that you or others have had with the employee.

If you are going to praise an employee for a character trait, such as organization, frame it with observable actions and times when you or others benefited from those actions, such as, “Frank’s stellar organization saved us during the recent work trip overseas. Though the rest of us had assumed we would rely on our phones just as we do here, Frank remembered that our cellular data wouldn’t work out of the country, and so he had printed addresses and contact information for all of our most important clients. Without him, we would have quite literally been lost, and could have potentially lost business as a result.”

Though you’re speaking about a character trait — being a well-prepared and organized person — you detail how the employee actively uses and hones his skill in order to help his team. 

You Should Not: Speak in General Terms

The biggest mistake managers can make is only speaking about character traits when praising employees. Saying things like “you’re organized” or “you’re loyal” can make a person’s success seem passive. An employee may leave the meeting feeling worse about herself, as though she was noticed for something that comes naturally to her or that she was “born with.”

It’s important to recognize how the employee utilizes a skill set and to remember that perhaps this skill hasn’t always come naturally to someone.  Sometimes the things we are worst at are also the things we work hardest at, and that’s an admirable quality in and of itself. 

Speaking in vague and general terms can also disinvest the rest of the team because the recognition may come across as biased, impersonal, or person-specific (“well, I’ll never be recognized if those are the qualities they’re looking for”). This goes back to the first point: making it known.

Make it known that your company does recognize employees and share the rubric you use when looking for who to spotlight each month. That kind of transparency will build trust within your business and boost morale by showing how fair you are as a manager. It will also increase employee productivity and engagement, as others will see exactly what to do in order to be next on your list of employees to recognize. 

Looking for more insight on how best to manage your team? Check out our other blog posts, or contact us today.