Why Praising Progress Works

The main idea of The New One Minute Manager is to help people reach their full potential. In the book, Spencer Johnson and I describe the Three Secrets: One Minute Goals, One Minute Praisings, and One Minute Re-Directs. I believe the most powerful of the three is One Minute Praisings.

For a One Minute Praising to be effective, you must praise the person as soon as you can and tell them in specific terms what they did right. Let them know how good you feel about what they did and encourage them to do more of the same.

As a manager, the most important thing you can do is to catch people doing something right. And when someone is just beginning to learn a task, it’s important to catch them doing something approximately right so you can help them move to the desired result.

One of my favorite examples of this is a parent teaching a child to speak. Suppose you want to teach your toddler son how to ask for a drink of water. Of course his first attempt isn’t going to be a full sentence. If you waited for him to say “Give me a glass of water, please” before you gave him a drink, that wouldn’t turn out too well. So you start by pointing to a glass of water and saying, “water, water.” After several weeks or months, all of a sudden one day your son says, “waller.” You are so excited you hug and kiss him, give him a drink of water, and get Grandma on the phone so the child can say, “waller, waller.” It wasn’t the exact way to say water—but it was close, so you praised his progress. Eventually, you only accept the word water and then you start working on please. By setting up achievable targets along the way and praising progress, you help the learner move toward the end goal.

In the workplace, unfortunately, many managers wait until people do something exactly right before praising them. The problem with this is that some people never become high performers because their managers concentrate on catching them doing things wrong, keeping an eye only on the desired performance instead of praising progress along the way.

This happens with new employees all the time. Their manager welcomes them aboard, takes them around to meet everybody, and then leaves them alone. Not only does the manager not catch the new person doing something approximately right, they periodically zap them just to keep them moving. I call this the leave-alone-zap management style. You leave a person alone, expecting good performance from them. When you don’t get it, you zap them. What do you think that does to a person’s performance and engagement?

If you set clear goals and catch your people doing things right, you’ll create a work environment where people are engaged and fully committed to doing a good job. It only takes a few minutes to praise someone for a job well done. It will be the most important minute of your day.

Catch People Doing Something Right

Asian Business PeopleI believe the key to developing employees and building a great organization is to wander around and catch people doing things right. This is a powerful management concept that isn’t used as often as it should be. Unfortunately, most leaders tend to focus on the things that are being done wrong so they can fix them.

The best way to start this habit is to take an hour out of your week to just walk around and observe what goes on in your organization. I know you’ll see several examples of people who are doing the right thing: conducting business with corporate values in mind. When you see this happening, praise the individual.

Remember, though—effective praising has to be specific. Just walking around saying “thanks for everything” is meaningless. If you say “great job” to a poor performer and the same thing to a good performer, you’ll sound ridiculous to the poor performer and you’ll demotivate the good performer.

For example, in a retail environment you might see an employee walk with a customer to a different location in the store in order to show the customer where to find a certain item. An effective praising would sound like this: “Mary, I noticed just now how you put the customer first by taking her to the merchandise she was looking for instead of just pointing in the general direction. That is an excellent example of living by our values. Keep it up.”

This principle can also help relationships flourish at home. If your school-aged child makes his bed or does his homework without being asked, let him know right away that you notice and appreciate his efforts. Be timely and specific with your praise.

Catching people doing things right provides satisfaction and motivates good performance. So remember: give praise immediately, make it specific, and encourage the person to keep up the good work. It’s a great way to interact with and affirm the people in your life—and it will make you feel good about yourself too.

5 Keys to Connecting With Your People

bigstock-Different-46099117I was talking with some friends at a recent morning men’s group. Our focus was on the importance of being connected to other people and what it means. We came up with five things we think help you really get connected to others—at work, and in all aspects of life. How would you rate yourself in these five areas?

  1. Listen more than you speak.  We talked about listening a lot. If God wanted you to speak more than listen, he would have given you two mouths!
  2. Praise other people’s efforts.  This one has always been so important to me. Catch people doing things right.  That really helps you get connected with people.
  3. Show interest in others.  It’s not all about you. Find out about people and their families and learn about what’s happening in their lives.
  4. Be willing to share about yourself.  In our book Lead with LUV, my coauthor and former Southwest Airlines president Colleen Barrett said that people admire your skills but they really love your vulnerability. Are you willing to share about yourself?  I think being vulnerable with people is really important.
  5. Ask for input from others—ask people to help you.  People really feel connected if they can be of help to you. Continue reading

The Difference between Leadership, Management, and Supervision

A lot of people ask me, “What’s the difference between leadership, management, and supervision?”  Most people think it’s about where you are in the hierarchy—if you’re at the top, you’re a leader; if you’re in the middle, you’re a manager; and if you are closest to the people who are actually dealing with the customers, you’re in supervision.

I’d like to break the mold and forget about those labels. I believe all three are leadership roles. No matter whether you’re at the top, in the middle, or supervising people on the front lines, as a leader you first need to make sure that everybody is clear on goals. The first secret of The One Minute Manager is One Minute Goal Setting. All good performance starts with clear goals, which is the vision and direction part of leadership. The next thing you need to do is to help people accomplish those goals. That brings to mind the second and third secrets of The One Minute Manager. The second secret is One Minute Praising. After people are clear on what they are being asked to do, you need to wander around and see if you can catch them doing something right. Accent the positive and praise them. If someone does something wrong, but is a learner, don’t punish the person. Just say, “Maybe it wasn’t clear about what we were working on,” and redirect. However, if you are dealing with an experienced person who for some reason has a lousy attitude, give the person a One Minute Reprimand, which is the third secret of The One Minute Manager. That’s where you make clear what the person did wrong: “You didn’t get your report in on Friday, and I really needed it. Let me tell you how I feel – I’m really upset about it.”  Be sure, though, that you always end with a reaffirmation: “The reason I’m upset is that you’re one of my best people and I always count on you for that.”

Every level of leadership starts with clear vision and direction and then moves to implementation. Remember that managers, supervisors, and CEOs are all leaders. Don’t let yourself get hung up on labels.

Should You Reprimand or Should You Redirect?

Before you give a reprimand—think!  In many cases an employee needs to be redirected rather than reprimanded. In today’s workplace with constant changes in technology, people are continuously learning new skills. With all that learning, mistakes are bound to occur. For this reason, generally speaking, the need for redirection is much more prevalent today than the need for reprimands.

Use the following “decision tree” to help you determine whether an employee’s misstep in behavior or performance should lead to a reprimand or a redirection.

When someone does something wrong, first ask yourself, “Should this person have known better?”


·       If the answer is “No,” then the person is obviously unfamiliar with his or her assigned responsibility or task and still in a learning stage, and needs redirection. Never reprimand a learner—whether it’s a new hire learning the ropes, an experienced employee working on a new task, or your daughter learning to tie her shoelaces.  It will only cause confusion or outright discouragement.  In this instance, your role as a leader is to help, or redirect, the person who is having a problem. The five steps of an effective redirection are:

1.    Give the redirection as soon as possible after the problem happens. Prompt feedback is very important.

2.    Explain specifically what went wrong and how it could affect others.

3.    Take on a bit of the responsibility by saying something such as, “I must not have made it clear enough…” This reduces the pressure on the employee who is simply in need of supportive redirection.

4.    Reiterate the importance of the task.

5.    Reassure the person you still have confidence in him to help him move toward success on the task. The purpose of redirection is to set up, as soon as possible, an opportunity for a praising to occur.


·       If the answer is “Yes,” and you believe the person should have known better, then you must ask yourself, “Did this person make the mistake deliberately or because of a lack of confidence?” Remember—only reprimand deliberate behavior or unusual regressive performance of a normally strong performer.

  • If the problem revolves around a lack of confidence, try to determine the reason.  It could be that a new situation exists that is unsettling to a seasoned worker. For example, perhaps Brad, an experienced cashier, makes many errors on the new cash register.  The reason is most likely a lack of confidence due to a change from the familiar.  Brad doesn’t need a reprimand; rather, he needs training and practice on the new register, coupled with support from an understanding boss.  Reprimands have no place in this example.
  • If you have good reason to believe the person purposely did something wrong, or if the person’s typical good performance is continuously and obviously declining, a reprimand may be appropriate. If you deliver the reprimand with “caring candor,” a phrase coined by Garry Ridge, President and CEO of WD-40 Company, it can be a powerful motivator for a high performer whose recent goal achievement is not up to normal high standards.  Remember these four steps when you must reprimand an individual:

1.    As with a redirection, deliver the reprimand in a timely manner—as soon as the unusual poor performance or behavior is detected. A reprimand should never be saved for an annual performance review.

2.    Be specific about what was done incorrectly and the impact it could have on you or others; i.e., “You didn’t turn in your weekly report on time. When I don’t get reports from all our team members, I can’t do a complete analysis for my Monday leadership meeting.”

3.    Share your exact feelings about the situation—frustration, disappointment, surprise, etc.

4.    Finish by reaffirming the person’s past performance and letting her know the reprimand is not about her as a person, but about her behavior or actions. “This upsets me because it’s so unlike you. You’re one of my best people and you usually get your reports in on time.” This last step is very important because you want the person to walk away thinking about what she did wrong, not about how poorly you treated her.


Above all, remember to catch your people doing something right and praise them at every opportunity. You will be making deposits in the bank of goodwill, so that if you occasionally need to make a withdrawal via a redirection or reprimand, the sting will be short-lived and the employee will be that much more motivated toward high achievement.