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By Toni, Director of Writing Services

Years ago, I was sitting in a class for public speaking in the small country of Belize.  The student on stage gave one of the most boring talks I have ever endured in my life; thankfully, though, it was only five minutes long.  The instructor got up on stage afterwards to offer critique on the presentation. The curriculum outlined that commendation be given before correction.  The instructor, a close family friend of ours, had a snarky sense of humor. In my mind, I was thinking, “this should be interesting…what could he possibly commend the student for?”  To my surprise, he was able to offer over a minute of commendation before he offered just one point for the student to work on in his next assignment. I was floored! Where had I been?  What had I just missed?

Have you ever done a search for “commendation in the workplace”?   I did one recently using two different search engines and found the results to be disappointing: a few articles on how to write a letter of commendation, as in “my server Martha was outstanding in attending to the smallest requests…” and a program for asphalt paving!  

To Commend:

To name with approval, show as worthy of mention, also implies confidence in recipient

I know; commendation is hard to give, and sometimes it can feel a little weird.  Imagine there’s one of your employees who’s done a really outstanding job lately.  You’d like to mention it to him, but honestly, he has a “porcupine demeanor.” You’re slightly intimidated that if you start with “Hey Kevin, I just wanted to mention that I noticed the extra effort you’ve invested lately in…” that he will look at you with a dismissive look, and your words will start sounding like Porky Pig saying “Th-Th-The, Th-Th-The!”  Or, you dread the thought of telling Kristin you appreciate the time she gave in attending to details on a recent project because as soon as you do, she’ll launch into a self-aggrandizing spiel of “I’m so amazing because I do this and others don’t…” Yawn.  

It’s true. You can’t control how Kevin or Kristin will react, but that doesn’t eliminate the necessity of commendation.  What we need is a “work-around.” Offer the commendation but in another format that doesn’t intimidate you or cause an awkward response.  For example, send an email. And, if you’re concerned that it might cause backlash down the road, BCC it to someone you trust, or have a trusted advisor look over a draft, or let it sit in your drafts folder for 24 hours and return to check the tone and message.  

Please don’t just say, “You’re doing a fine job Brittany!”

Where’s the specificity in that?  How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of that?  Might you be inclined to think, “do you even know what job I’m doing?”  Giving commendation is a bit like mining, especially if the individual is a “diamond in the rough.”  We have to get past the obnoxious parts of her personality and focus on the action, attitude, or determination that really deserves the praise.  So, take a few moments and consider what stands out to you and capture that in a few distinct words.

Last week, Dominic, our company Founder,  met with the highly successful president of a thriving organization.  The president made an interesting point as to why leaders often don’t provide necessary commendation.  Simply put, the obstacle is time. He gave the example of someone bringing him the final copy of a company landing page.  Immediately the president started listing changes that he wanted to see with the font size, color, and layout. He admitted to Dominic, “I actually really liked the landing page!”  Unfortunately, all the employee was hearing was what was wrong with the page. Yes, we may understand the urgency of the project; the sooner that page was loaded, the sooner clients could start clicking the “Buy Now” button.  But, without that design team, that page won’t happen. Commend the people who brought the page to fruition. Don’t assume your people know you “love them” when your only feedback comes across as incinerating their efforts. In regards to showing appreciation, you’ll enjoy our November 2017 blog “It’s Not Just ‘Common Courtesy’”.

Track it.  

You may be thinking, “you can’t be serious…”  Well, you probably track other aspects of your business that have profound impacts.  It’s easy to think we’re generous people, handing out compliments left and right, reinforcing good behavior, but more than likely, it’s been a little while since someone in our work environment sensed our approval and admiration. If you’re still having difficulties generating ideas or plans for commendation, try implementing one of the software or social networking based systems for employee and peer-to-peer recognition.  One that we like is from kudos.  

Recognition motivates.  

Recognition engages.  

Recognition matters.


And, maybe you’re not sold on the idea of buying recognition software.  So, try a simple self-analyzing test. For one week, give each one of your direct reports a piece of commendation.  At the end of the week, evaluate the following. How did you feel about the endeavor? Did the exercise feel uncomfortable, or did it feel normal?  That should tell you something about how often you’re dispensing commendation. And as a bonus, how was the overall vibe of the team at the week’s end?  Did you see improvement in positivity? At the very least your communication will have improved because the commendation provided a segway to being more in touch with the root motivations of your team.

Why Bother?

Jim Clifton, Chairman & CEO at Gallup, writes that one-third of those employees are what Gallup calls engaged at work. They love their jobs, enjoy their teams and customers, contribute, have great ideas, believe in the mission, feel their job uses their strengths — and they make their organization…better every day.”  So this raises the question “Where are the other two-thirds?” Why are two-thirds of employees not engaged at work, feeling appreciated for their work, and believing in their mission? How can they be advocates for the company and the product and services if they’re not loving their work?  Here’s what we can do to change that.

Commendation is to all of us like sunshine and water are to a seedling. It can help us to not just survive but more importantly to thrive in our work environment.  This is due to the fact that commendation serves to build our confidence. When nothing we do stands out, everything must be “average,” and consequently “sufficient”.  However, if someone commends us for a particular approach to a project, we feel that what we did was worth the effort. This in turn incentivizes us to enhance our drive and output.  It’s almost like being a kid again…”oh yeah? You think that was good? Watch this!”

As team leaders and business owners, part of our responsibility is to bring the best to bear with all our assets, including our people.  It’s no surprise that happier, more satisfied employees result in more cohesive teams, resulting in increased advocacy for both the business and the product and services.  Do yourself and them a favor and pay frequent and sincere commendation.

As you well know, conducting business is a dynamic interaction between leaders, team members, and clients.  Some of the most important variables are the human interactions which have their start within our minds. RightMind is committed to helping businesses realize their true potential through science-based education and training.  Looking to move forward? Contact us to learn how to accentuate the best your team has to offer!