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Jack Mitchell: Unleash the Power of Praise

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Hard-working, ambitious associates want clarity and honest discussion of their performance and outlook.

 You may have heard of the management theory of firing 10 percent of your team every year by lopping off the bottom of the totem pole. It sounds harsh, but some business gurus feel strongly that it re-energizes the culture and keeps everyone on his toes. Rather than re-energize a lot of people, I feel it just scares the living daylights out of them. It would keep me wide awake every night and quaking all day. 
 
Regular reviews on an annual or semi-annual basis are important. People want to be advised of how they’re doing, and I refer to this approach as building on positives and strengths. 
 
In reviews, I often struggle with how to clearly communicate an individual’s developmental need or a challenging issue. With some people, when you write down something that’s critical of their performance they become very defensive and it often winds up creating even more of a negative. 
 
That said, it’s vital for associates to know where they stand in the eyes of the person they report to. I start with the positives and then weave in constructive recommendations, being very careful about the language I use. 
 
We think it helps to isolate areas where a person has to raise the bar. Now, of course, they may not agree, and they may come back in your face about why you are wrong, and that’s what reviews are all about. They should be interactive exchanges in which you try to discover mutually the value of each associate for the present and the future. 
 
The concept of being positive and building on strengths, which I’ve done intuitively for years, is reinforced by research undertaken by the Gallup Organization and detailed in the book Now, Discover Your Strengths. 
 
The best way to review people is to give feedback constantly on how they are doing. That way there are no surprises when the evaluation comes up. Hard-working, ambitious associates want clarity and honest discussion of their performance and outlook. They relish a frank appraisal of what they do and have done. That’s why many of our associates actually tell us they prefer quarterly performance reviews, especially if they have moved into a new role or position and have assumed different responsibilities. 
 
When you want to point out something an associate is doing wrong you say, “Sam, may I give you some feedback?” Most of the time, if the person has been properly educated about the feedback process, he understands it’s a nonthreatening method to share. It’s not a put-down, it’s a genuine way to suggest an alternative. 
 
One Saturday, Bill was waving a letter around at the morning meeting from a customer praising the sales associates, customer service and the tailor shop for a fine job they had all done. Well, Elli, who has worked in the tailor shop forever, was at the meeting, and it felt pretty good to hear the praise. A light bulb went off for her and she typed a letter to the nursing home, where her mother lived. So she could “pass it along” and praise the people there who were taking such good care of her mother. And she felt wonderful about it. 
 
Bill and I and the family tell these stories all the time — almost every week. A hugging culture creates an environment where people are comfortable giving and receiving compliments for their contributions — their hugs. 
 
This may not sound like a big deal, but we’ve had new hires tell us that because they had never, ever been complimented by a boss, they never felt comfortable enough to compliment someone they worked with. How sad. 
 
It’s fun to see people smile when you pay them a compliment, and it’s wonderful to hear them compliment their colleagues in the lunchroom. 
 
Try it today. 
 
Buy the book at hugyourpeople.com
 

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