"Good job!" "You did a great job!" "Nice work!" "Super effort!" When's the last time you gave an employee one of these announcements of affirmation? If you're a leader who likes to promote the positive, chances are you say this a lot. Any why not? After all, affirmation solidifies behavior, and recognition builds repetition.
But there is a downside to "Good Job!" Telling people that they did a good job loses its effect after a while. People come to expect it from leaders who say "Good Job" all the time. Employees begin to wonder what makes the leader determine who does a good job and why they get a compliment. In time, they can end up focusing more on what the leader deems as the standard of high quality work. If certain people receive more kudos than others, resentment toward the leader will eventually develop over time.
Here's the root of the problem. Compliments are transactional responses. In other words, if I, the leader, think you do something pleasing to me, I need to pay you a compliment; thus a transaction has been completed. However, if the employee works hard, and the leader doesn't see it or worse fails to compliment the effort, the employee will not be paid; and therefore, a transaction will not occur. The employee will be led to believe that the leader doesn't value his work simply because he hasn't been paid a verbal compliment for his efforts. The problem with this fixed mindset is that the focus from both parties is on recognizing effort and paying for it, rather than creating an environment where the focus is on continuous progress and growth through consistent efforts.
Transformational leadership is more about moving people forward than praising them for where they are. In other words, if leaders want to transform the workplace, they must stop employing the tactic of transactional compliments such as praising people solely based on singular, isolated actions. A mindset of continuous change requires leaders to exceed praise and utilize specific feedback that celebrates growth over time. This happens when the leader acknowledges not only where someone currently is but how far they've come and where they will eventually be one day. Hence, the leader focuses his feedback on growth instead of the job.
Here are 5 Ways Leaders can transform "Great Job" into "Great Growth"
Commenting on a person's performance over a period of time by showing specific areas of growth helps employees transform their behavior into more efficient and focused behavior. Nothing transforms mindsets better than showing people how far they have come in their work. They will focus their efforts on continuing the growth that they are making.
Asking reflective questions gives the employee a chance to evaluate their own performance. This also gives the leader an opportunity to gauge if the employee has a false sense of confidence or expectations that are too high. Reflective questions also help the employee see their own strengths and find ways to fix their own problems. The purpose of reflective questioning is to guide people to rate their work and effectiveness.
Examples of Exceptional Work
Highlighting and giving specific feedback on examples of the employee's exceptional work builds tremendous confidence. Nothing builds a sense of efficacy better than the leader showing an employee a piece of their own excellent work and then highlighting why their work is tremendous. This tells the employee specifically what quality of work you want them to continue.
Affirmation Connected to Areas of Weakness
Some people do some things really great and other things not so well. Find opportunities to connect strategies within the employee's strengths to their areas of weakness. For example, "if you had done this weakness in the same way that you did the strength, you could possibly get better results". This feedback affirms the employee's strengths while defining how the employee can improve their deficits.
Thoughts to Think About (yes, the redundancy is necessary)
Another great way to transform people into a mindset of constant transformation is to affirm excellent work by giving them a question that challenges their great work to become even bigger and better. Asking people how they would make changes to their work when they do it again affirms quality while challenging growth. This challenge by affirmation also tells the employee that you have a lot of confidence in their abilities and the growth they are making .
Good, Better, Best
The word good affirms the present. Better is a step up from good, but by comparing yesterday to today, it solidifies the status quo for tomorrow. Best is the only goal of a transformational mindset. If we want every member of the organization to be their best, each member must constantly know their performance every day without the leader's input and strive to improve. This will happen when leaders create the conditions for employees and leaders to work interdependently to evaluate one another's progress over time. From there they must seek out new ways to more effectively and efficiently give their very best performance each and every day. Good is never good enough and never will be good enough, so let's create a mindset where we collectively evaluate our work in this way: