This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Carrots and Sticks Don't Work" by Paul Marciano. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why is it important to provide praise and recognition in the workplace? What are the most common excuses for not giving recognition?
In his book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, Paul Marciano discusses why praise and recognition in the workplace are so important. When employees feel like their work is valued, they’re happier, they perform better, and the workplace becomes a more positive environment for everyone.
Continue reading to learn the benefits of recognizing your employees’ work.
The Importance of Praise and Recognition
We all desire social belonging and feeling like our efforts are important. Praise and recognition in the workplace, especially from your managers, is a very direct way of achieving this. In his book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, author Paul Marciano argues that the ROI of positive feedback is huge – a minute spent on complimenting work can lead to hours of increased productivity. Positive feedback is reinforcement that makes the behavior more likely to happen again, unprompted.
Managers tend to overestimate how much they give recognition and underestimate how important it is to employees. Imagine that some people keep a positive sticky note from their boss for months – it means that much to them.
Failure to reinforce through recognition actually suppresses behavior – if you assign a project and don’t reward hard work to meet its deadline, the worker is less likely to meet the deadline next time. If you admonish a worker for poor behavior, and the worker corrects it but doesn’t receive positive feedback, she’ll fall back to the bad behavior, for there is less reason to correct it. “You don’t get team members to take initiative by focusing on their lack of initiative.”
People tend to acclimate to repeated signals of one kind, and to notice deviations from the norm. If you only provide negative feedback, the next item of negative feedback gets little novel weight – if the worker tries her best but still gets only complaints, there’s little incentive to change. In contrast, a history of positive feedback will make a major complaint feel explosive and note-worthy. The employee won’t want to disappoint someone who’s signaled satisfaction through positive feedback.
Excuses for Not Giving Recognition
Managers often cite reasons for not recognizing employees:
“Employees shouldn’t be thanked for doing what we pay them to do.”
- Employee recognition is actually part of your job. Your output is the sum of your subordinates’ output, so increasing that value is your job.
“It’s not in my personality.”
- It’s not in your personality to brush your teeth either, but you do it because it works.
“I have too many direct reports.”
- Encourage team leads to reinforce good behavior to fill in for your gaps.
- Focus your energy on a single theme, to make rewarding behavior across many team members easier.
“I don’t get recognized by my boss. So why should I recognize my reports?”
- Even if your boss fails, you still need to do your job.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for recognition and feedback from your supervisor – it’s important for your advancement.
“They never do anything praiseworthy.”
- Your bar is set too high. Lower your expectations so that people occasionally meet them. Ask people to share experiences with teammates.
Actionables for Recognition
- Make your feedback effective with these attributes: close in timing, very specific, in person if possible, enthusiastically, and publicly.
- Tell your reports: “It’s important to me that you feel recognized for your contributions. If you don’t feel I’m doing this, can you bring it to my attention?”
- Write handwritten notes.
- When you instruct a teammate to correct an action, when she corrects it, give positive feedback. Omission of feedback will make it seem like you’re not watching.
- Make the announcement public. Create a wall of great ideas. Share the specific piece of work with the team. Take time during team meetings to publicly acknowledge individuals for their recent good work.
- Couple positive feedback with nonverbal rewards, like autonomy and growth opportunities.
- Force yourself to keep reminders to convey positive feedback. Start meetings with round robins of people sharing what they liked about a teammate. Start the day with five pennies in your pocket, and transfer a penny to the other side once you’ve given positive feedback. Set alarms to remind yourself to give feedback.
- Buy an ad in a local paper to signal a job well done. This public recognition feels really special.
- Call ad hoc meetings to reward people with positive feedback.
- Deliver enough positive feedback such that the constructive feedback is high contrast and it stings – people will want to avoid that sting at all costs.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Carrots and Sticks Don't Work summary:
- How to motivate your employees and teammates to do a better job
- How to know if you're a terrible manager
- Why the carrot and stick motivation model doesn't work anymore—and what to do instead