When you acknowledge performance, is anyone listening?

Audrey Hepburn £7

Image by drinksmachine via Flickr

Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you’re exactly the same.

Audrey Hepburn

When you acknowledge performance is anyone listening?

I ask this question because I have noticed on a number of occasions when a teacher, coach or manager is acknowledging performance, no one is listening.  Why?  It is all about audience perception. If the audience believes your acknowledgment is subjective (your opinion) they are not really interested.  If however the acknowledgment is objective, and based on real evaluation measures then the audience is much more interested in what you have to say.

As a teacher, coach or manager, you need to develop a reputation for giving feedback based on performance. When the players, employees and students know your praise is objective and based on known performance measures it will hold much greater value. We can all think of people in our lives who didn’t give too much praise, however, when they did acknowledge performance with feedback it was highly valued.

So how to give public praise? Taking our six dimensional model here are a few tips.

Knowledge: Know when it is appropriate to give private and public feedback. Ensure only praise is given publicly. Constructive feedback should always be given privately.

Skills: Giving meaningful praise is an art. You will become more skilled through practice. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

If you are giving praise, be sure to be personal, thank each person by name.  If it is not possible to name everyone at the time, be sure to follow up your praise in writing, naming each person. I am a great fan of the written “thank you” card as it personalises your comments.

Acknowledge the contribution of each person, and be specific, but do not give too much detail. You can say, “Thank you to John for managing the X project, which finished on time and under budget.” That is better than trawling through the details and people will remember John is the guy, who is good at managing time and money.

Always show how personal performance contributes to organisational, team or class performance. “Malia, your photographs have given our class portfolio a professional appearance”.   This is easy to do if you are clear about the performance criteria of the team, the project or the curriculum.  Just take some time to find the right words to express the benefits of the contribution.

It is a nice touch to look forward when giving praise. A mention of how this contribution will serve the person in the future is an added bonus. “Sam, your top wicket taking performance is sure to put you in contention for a representative spot”.  This forward focus demonstrates that our relationship with the person or team is ongoing, and we will take a continued interest in their performance.

Finally, a nice “Thank you”, finishes your praise with authenticity. Where I live in the world, it is not only acceptable but expected that some physical expression accompanies your praise. A hug, a kiss or maybe both is fine. Here in New Zealand, we are very comfortable with this culture norm, however, I realise it is not appropriate in all cultures and situations, so check it out in advance.

Values: The reason we give praise is to acknowledge performance. This is part of your role as a manager, coach and teacher. Authentic praise is both elegant in delivery and of value to the recipient.

People: Who are you praising? The people who’s performance matters to you. This will be your players, your team members, your students. and your self.   Praise is the public acknowledgment of all the hard work that the person or group has put into developing their knowledge and understanding, practicing their skills, demonstrating your key values, working with others, and on their own, learning, and contributing to overall performance. Take a good look around. Who has performed in the last month, week or days?  Have you thanked and praised  them? If you, have performed well, have you acknowledge this to yourself.

Learning: You can learn a great deal from watching others give praise. You can collect and keep some good examples to give you inspiration in the future.  Be aware that this is an area of ongoing learning for a manager, coach or teacher.

Integration: Giving praise is just one more tool in your toolkit. Make sure you use it often. Practice your skills and before long your will have a reputation for being the person everyone wants to listen to!

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