As you probably know, praising people for their hard work motivates them to work even harder. Praising people’s creativity can encourage them to try new things and take smart risks. Praising people skills can motivate them to be better teammates and leaders.
But what you may not know is whether random praise to a new employee, worth it or not, may also significantly improve their performance.
I know, it sounds weird. If I’m a new hire and you randomly tell me I’m doing well — especially when I’m not — I might think my (medioc) level of performance is more than adequate.
However, according to a series of studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this is not the case. Researchers donate to randomly selected Kickstarter projects. They rated a randomly selected Epinions review as “Very Helpful”. They grant status rewards to randomly selected Wikipedia editors. They randomly signed some Change.org petitions.
what happened? As the researchers wrote:
The results show that different types of success (money, quality ratings, rewards, and endorsements) all produced significant improvements in subsequent success rates. A control group of non-recipients.
Early success, actual or not, leads to future success. I don’t necessarily need to ever be successful; I just need to think that I am.
Especially for unhappy employees
Ask common Lead the work they do to improve employee performance and you tend to hear the usual skepticism. Provide the right tools and resources. Set and measure progress towards meaningful goals. Provide development opportunities. Build a great culture.
What you rarely hear about is ensuring employees are happy, although 2021 research published in Journal of Happiness Research shows employee happiness and happiness can accurately predict employee performance. Researchers who spent seven years studying more than 900,000 soldiers found that happy people performed better. The most motivated and optimistic soldiers were four times as likely to be rewarded as the least motivated and most optimistic soldiers.
But here is the key. While going from happy to super happy is great, going from unhappy to quite happy is more powerful. As the researchers wrote:
Low and moderate positive emotions have a greater increased probability of being rewarded compared to moderate and high positive emotions. Impact was more closely related to reward acquisition when going from unfavorable to moderate than moderate to favorable.
…Moderate happiness was sufficient to produce most of the benefits in our study.
This is where early praise, or even random early praise, comes in. How many unhappy employees have somehow magically changed performance on their own? In my experience, very few. They need help to turn things around. encourage. Chance.
They need someone who believes in them, maybe even before they believe in themselves.
They need the right kind of praise
Imagine, You commend a new employee’s achievements. That’s fine, but it can also create a fixed mindset environment.
As I’ve written before, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on achievement and success shows that most people tend to have one of two psychological perspectives when it comes to focusing on talent :
- Fixed Mindset: Belief that intelligence, abilities and skills are innate and relatively fixed – we are born with . People with a fixed mindset often say “I’m just not that smart” or “I’m not a good leader.”
People with a Growth Mindset It’s common to say, “Just a little more time and I’ll figure it out” or, “It’s okay. I’ll try again.”
Adopting a fixed mindset can make people think they can’t change themselves because you can change your mindset. You are smart, or you are not smart. You have talent, or you don’t. You are a leader, or you are not.
Then, in challenging decisions, you feel helpless because you don’t think you’re good enough – and then you stop trying and stop improving.
Better way of random praise? Praise effort, not just results. “Thank you for knocking it out.” Thank you for trying so hard. “Thank you for persevering.”
By praising efforts – even if the praise is random and may not even be fully deserved – you create an environment where people think anything is possible if they persist Follow through and keep going.
Because early success almost always leads to future success.
Even if early success lives only in the recipient’s mind.