Keep Your Praise-to-Criticism Ratio at 4:1 for a Healthy Workplace

I was once talking to a young woman and asked her if she liked her boss.

“She’s okay,” she said. “She seems to think I’m doing a good job.”

“How can you tell?” I asked her.

“Well, she hasn’t yelled at me lately,” she said.

Unfortunately, too many people have bosses like this—they never hear from them unless they do something wrong. That’s too bad. I am a firm believer in not only catching people doing things right, but praising them when they do.

I was involved in a corporate study where criticisms and praisings from managers to direct reports were tabulated and the reactions measured. The study concluded that in a healthy workplace environment there need to be at least four times as many positive interactions as negative ones between manager and direct report—a 4:1 ratio.

When there was one praising for each criticism (1:1), people perceived their relationship with their boss to be negative. When the ratio was changed and there were two praisings to one criticism (2:1), people still saw their manager as being all over them. It wasn’t until there were four praisings to one criticism (4:1) that people responded that they had a good relationship with their boss.

You know that people’s perception of criticism is powerful when it takes four positive comments to balance one negative comment. It’s pretty clear that when a leader doesn’t give a lot of praise, the people who work with them will think of them as negative and unfair. So how can you cultivate that much praise? It’s simple: catch people doing something right and give them a One Minute Praising.

In The New One Minute Manager®, my late friend Spencer Johnson and I wrote about One Minute Praisings. They work best when you follow these steps:

  1. Praise someone as soon as possible after you see praiseworthy behavior or work. Don’t save up compliments—unspoken praise is worthless!
  2. In very specific terms, tell the person what they did right—and be specific.
  3. Tell them how good you feel about what they did right and how it helps others or the organization. In other words, relate their good behavior to the broader picture.
  4. Once you’ve given a praising, pause to let the message sink in and give the person a chance to feel good about what they did.
  5. After a brief pause, let the person know you would like to see more of the same behavior.
  6. Make it clear that you have confidence in them and that you support their success in the organization.

These steps can easily and sincerely be accomplished in a minute. One Minute Praisings have a powerful impact on morale and productivity—and they are a great way to create a consistent 4:1 ratio in your organization!

Make it a Summer of Learning

If you want to be a great leader, you must make personal growth a conscious choice and a continuous journey. In the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders Grow, we say that growing to a leader is like oxygen to a deep sea diver: without it, you die. Not a physical death, of course—but if you stop growing, your influence will erode and, ultimately, you may lose the opportunity to lead at all.

Simply knowing how to do your job today doesn’t secure your success tomorrow. It’s important to keep up with today’s rapidly changing work environment so that you can offer new ideas to keep your organization successful in the future.  Make time to read books and articles, watch videos, and listen to podcasts or audio books. Talk with peers or work with a mentor outside your normal work circle. Sign up for an online course or a workshop at your company. Join an association or a special interest group. The learning opportunities are endless—however, the time to invest in these activities is not.

Many organizations enjoy a slower pace during the summer. Or maybe you take your vacation during the summer. Either way, why not utilize some of that time and make this your summer of learning!

My wife, Margie, loves listening to audio books. She listens to business books, books that support her photography hobby, mystery novels, and a lot more. The great thing about this is she can do it sitting on a plane, riding in a car, or taking a walk—just about any time. I encourage you to do the same. Use some of your downtime to invest in your own knowledge. Take a book or article you’ve been meaning to read on that long flight or even to the beach. Listen to a podcast while you are exercising or sitting somewhere quietly enjoying the view. Get up a little earlier than usual and watch a TED talk online.

Keep in mind that your learning doesn’t have to be focused on your work. Trying new hobbies is a learning experience and exploring new interests stimulates your thinking in general. You might think of a great idea for a home improvement project while you are practicing your golf swing. And that yoga class you’ve been promising to try for the past few months might provide the relaxation and focus you need to come up with an original recipe for dinner that uses healthy ingredients your family enjoys.

Be creative and open to life’s opportunities—because when you stop learning, you stop leading!

Re-Direct the Behavior, Not the Person

on the roadAs a manager—or a parent, coach, or any other kind of leader—you want to get rid of bad behavior but keep the good person. To do this, you must give feedback frequently—this goes for catching people doing things right as well as noticing mistakes or poor performance. It makes no sense for a manager to store up observations of poor behavior and present them all at once at the end of a project or during a performance review. Not only would this be frustrating for the manager, it would also put the person receiving the feedback on the defensive.

Re-directing behavior as soon as possible allows the manager to deal with one behavior at a time. It also allows the other person to focus on constructive feedback and how to correct the problem, instead of being overwhelmed with information about numerous mistakes or misbehaviors that happened long ago.

For the manager, the most important part of the re-direct is remembering to build people up, not tear them down. Confirm the facts, review the goal, and explain specifically how the behavior didn’t support the goal. End the re-direct with a praising: this lets the person know they are better than their mistake. A re-direct should never be perceived as a personal attack. You want the person to be aware of and concerned about what they did, not feel mistreated.

Like all of the Three Secrets Spencer Johnson and I share in our book, The New One Minute Manager, the One Minute Re-Direct takes about a minute and can be a great learning moment for both the manager and the direct report. It allows them to refocus on the goal and work together to strategize how to align performance with the desired outcome. Working collaboratively also improves the relationship by building trust and improving communication.

One Minute Re-Directs are the perfect way to provide feedback and coach people to peak performance. Remember, the best minute of the day is the one you invest in your people.

A One Minute Tip for Changing the Way You Set Goals

Business People Shaking Hands At DeskAll good performance starts with clear goals. That’s why Spencer Johnson and I made sure that the First Secret of The New One Minute Manager® is One Minute Goals. This is illustrated perfectly in the children’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which path she should take. The Cheshire Cat responds, “That depends on where you want to go.” When Alice says she doesn’t know, the smiling cat says, “Then it doesn’t matter.” The same is true in the work environment. If people don’t have a clear understanding of where they are going and what they need to focus on, they can’t perform at their highest level.

The secret of setting One Minute Goals is for the leader to work side by side with each direct report to write goal statements that include performance standards, so that both people agree on what needs to be done by what date. In other words, they work together to determine exactly what good performance looks like. I think the best practice is to have each goal on a separate page. Keep the goal statement short so that every day it will take less than a minute for the person to review it to make sure they are staying on track.

Yes—I’m suggesting that everyone look at their goals every day. Why? Because too often, goals are written and filed away in a drawer, not to be referenced again until it’s time for a performance review. Creating goals and hiding them from sight for a year is a surefire way to ensure that people won’t work on the most important projects in an organized way. What kind of message would it send if goals were set and never reviewed? Reading over goals every day ensures that people’s behaviors are matching their goals, allows them to adjust their behaviors if their goals are not being met, and reminds them how their work contributes to larger department or organization initiatives. This method actually lets people manage their own performance—which in turn helps them enjoy their work more and be more productive.

So where are you and your people going? When was the last time you checked? Start working with your direct reports today to write clear One Minute Goals, and encourage them to spend one minute each day to read them. I’m sure you’ll start seeing higher levels of goal achievement—along with higher morale.

NOMM-book-featureTo learn more about The New One Minute Manager, visit the book homepage where you can download the first chapter.