Creating A More Collaborative Work Environment Through Thoughtful, Effective Employee Praise

According to Mines & Associates—a national business psychology firm—a recent report from the U.S. Surgeon General states, “20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from diagnosable mental disorders each year, but less than half are receiving treatment.”

This would mean for every five employees at your firm, one is experiencing a common, diagnosable mental health issue that may affect his or her productivity.

Luckily for law firms, productivity can increase with small and simple changes in the behavior and attitude of managers or associate supervisors.

For example, men and women universally respond to verbal praise in the workplace. Praise increases enthusiasm, communication, and morale among employees and managers. As a result of praise, employees are motivated to work harder and faster to invite similar, continued commendations.

However, for praise to be truly effective, it’s important to keep in mind the following tips:

  1. Be sincere
  2. Be specific
  3. Be sparing

First, always be sincere in your praise or compliments. If you’re dolling out praise for the sole purpose of increasing morale, employees will catch on to your ruse. And, it’s likely they will begrudge you for it.

On the other hand, if your praise is genuine, not only will your employees be grateful to hear it, you—the manager—will be more than glad to give it.

Second, be precise in your praise for a job well done. Give accolades for specific job performance—conducting an effective team meeting, delivering an interesting presentation, or creating a superior memorandum for a client.

Ask yourself, did the associate complete the task at hand, or did they go above and beyond?

That brings us to a final tip. Praise should be limited to exceeded expectations, not simply meeting them.

On occasion, it may be valuable to point out and praise an associate who did exactly what you asked them to do. More importantly, however, highlight those moments where a legal professional completed the task at hand, and then added value in some other way.

Mines & Associates addressed some difficult praise-related questions on behalf of readers. In a recent newsletter, Mines & Associates advised in the FAQ:

I think I’m using praise effectively, except with one employee. Every time I praise this person, the employee productivity and work quality immediately decrease. What should I do?

Stop praising the employee. Your praise is actually punishing them. Perhaps the employee doesn’t trust verbal praise or holds a grudge against you. You may never know, but try other ways to express recognition. If all else fails, ask their opinion on how best to show appreciation for a job well done.

I recently started an annual program where I recognize high performing employees and praise them publicly for their achievements. Performance seems to increase right before the meeting and for a week or so after, but then it levels out quickly. What am I doing wrong?

The pattern you describe is typical for this kind of periodic praising. Technically it’s called a “fixed interval schedule” – employees only get praised or rewarded at a particular time (once a year). This isn’t the most effective schedule for sustaining high performance – who worries about Santa Claus in July? Frequency, rather than magnitude, of praise is most important. Increase the amount of praise and vary how and when you do it. This may not be as dramatic as an annual event, but it will be more effective.”

To read the full newsletter, go here.

Praise is key in diffusing difficult situations in the workplace. If your law firm is experiencing excessive workplace conflict, it may be time to reevaluate the working relationships of your employees and their managers.

Find out what place praise has in your office by listening to The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course, “When the Pot Boils! Skills to Manage and Resolve Workplace Conflict.”

Learning about effective leadership techniques and developing impactful communication with your employees (after both good and bad work performance) will help your firm transform into a more harmonious, collaborative workplace environment.



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