June 2011




Recognize, praise, and reward your employees

by Bob Teale, C.O.E., O.C.S.


When to do what and how to do it

Most elements of management require skillful timing and motive, and employee recognition is no exception. If done correctly, regular reward and praise of you staff will transform you from a good manager into a great leader, boosting morale and productivity along the way.

A good leader will notice when an employee is doing something noteworthy and will want to shine the light on a stellar performance for the sake of the individual, the team, and the overall practice environment. In addition, the personal and professional gratification enjoyed by your employees when acknowledged and rewarded for a job well done makes this a fun part of managing a practice or business.


Knowing when to recognize an employee's performance starts with knowing what to recognize and how to do it. Good managers remember to recognize an occasional good performance from an employee. Great leaders do it every day without diluting its value.

Here are some quick and easy things to do to make sure that recognizing employees' exceptional performances becomes part of your daily routine.

Make recognizing employees a part of your weekly "to do" list. Add to your list of goals the names of the people who report to you, and look for something "above the norm" with them according to the duties and responsibilities presented in their job descriptions. Recognize their efforts either one-on-one or in front of the staff during a staff meeting.

Use voicemail. Rather than using voicemail only to assign tasks, leave messages that acknowledge outstanding performances witnessed that day. For example, praise something the employee did that he or she wasn't asked or expected to do, such as helping a teammate or assisting in an area where that person normally doesn't work. Write thank you notes at the end of the day. Keep a stack of 3-by-5-inch note cards on your desk where you can't ignore them. At the end of the day, take a minute to write a thank you note to each employee who made a difference to your practice that day, e.g., someone who was especially helpful to a patient or who caught a costly billing error before it went through.

Find five exceptional outcomes every day. Each morning, put five coins in your pocket. Then during the day, every time you recognize an employee doing something well, transfer a coin to your other pocket. While a little unconventional, it will train you to recognize exceptional employees and help you set an expectation of discovery beyond one or two individuals. On a daily basis, attempt to find five different people who are doing or have done something beyond the usual office routine.

Recognize your employees equally. Be fair. Do not play favorites. While each of us gets along better with certain personalities, it is imperative that you not recognize, praise, or reward the same few employees over and over. Office gossip will give way to resentment if your staff senses that you favor one or a select few over other employees, which can kill morale and sabotage your efforts to motivate your team. Praise Many managers feel that handing out praise indiscriminately is better than not handing out any praise at all. This is not true. If you hand out praise arbitrarily or for the wrong reasons, it may do more harm than good. Here are a few guidelines to follow when using praise as a way to note good performance. Be very specific about what you praise. Rather than giving a general pat on the back, be specific in your feedback for a job well done. Being specific will minimize tendencies to view you as a pushover. It also will gain you the respect of your employees when they see you are paying close attention to their individual contributions and hard work.

Do not praise ordinary performance. You set the expectation too low when you praise average performance. If you praise employees for doing routine tasks, they won't be encouraged to do better. Raise your standard so that your praise will be of value to your employees when they do exceptional work. Then they will look for ways to win your approval and excel in their jobs. Take time to acknowledge your employees. Don't just "hit and run" with your comments. Spend the time necessary to let your employees know how much their dedication and conscientiousness means to you and the practice. Ask them to demonstrate some of their strategies and/or tactics on how they achieved their result. The extra time you invest with those employees can only encourage greater results on the next assignment.

Use praise to improve poor performance. If an employee is doing well in one area of his or her job but poorly in another, use praise to improve the poor performance. Commend the employee on what he or she is doing well, and review the details that made the outcome a success. Next, encourage your employee to apply the same winning strategy to the problem area to turn it around. Keep your praise positive. To safeguard against defensiveness, give your critique, assessment, or recommendation in the area that needs work without using the word "but," which tends to negate or de-emphasize the compliment you just gave. Being aware of your choice of words keeps the communication constructive and invites the employee to listen with a more open mind.


Never assume praise alone is enough. Superior performances over time deserve more than mere compliments. Given without constructive feedback and direction, praise can start to sound hollow. Bonuses, raises, interesting and challenging assignments, and increased responsibility are absolutely essential at some point.

Monetary rewards are appreciated in a tough economy. Although many employers have been cautioned not to rely solely on monetary rewards for their practice teams, it's fine to give out bonuses for excellence. Also, yearly raises keep good employees happy and working hard for the practice. Allow employees to set their own schedules. Once a stellar employee shows that he or she is a consistent contributor, relax some of the more inflexible supervisory structures governing his or her work life. Let these trusted employees use their own judgment for flexible break and lunch schedules, or let them experiment with a varied work week. Try this type of reward on exceptional performers, but allow it to be open to all who meet the criteria and have earned it.

Find or create advancement opportunities for your employees. If openings for advancement are limited within a job, look for exciting new opportunities in other areas of the practice. Is a particular individual management material? Could someone take over as the practice trainer for new and existing hires? When you go the extra mile to reward your employees with career satisfaction, they will realize you care about their futures as much as you care about your own.

Give them plum assignments. Whenever possible, consider delegating some of your responsibilities to your outstanding performers. Of course, these assignments would still be performed under your skilled and watchful eye. Or you might create and assign new roles for high performers to give them a heightened sense of ownership in the practice. These new assignments can bring a welcome change of pace for the employee and serve to open up possibilities for your practice.

Praise the employee in front of peers. The staff meeting is a good place for staff recognition. Reserve this powerful weapon for exceptional performance. It can lose its power and weaken its original intent with excessive or indiscriminate use. Stay focused, and do not wane in your efforts to consistently reward your staff members for excellence. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, sharing an employee's success with co-workers presents a great opportunity to use it as an example to motivate others to produce their own successes.

Emerging as a true leader

Be sure to have a plan that shows fairness and consistency across the board in your efforts to recognize, praise, and reward your employees. Becoming an effective leader isn't easy. You need to treat each employee fairly and attempt to build trust. You will be under scrutiny by those who work with you and for you. Having a solid plan of action to build a strong practice and develop an exceptional team demonstrates to your employees how to lead by example.

Taking people to the next level is what differentiates a great leader from a good manager. To replicate a successful result, a manager must recognize it, praise it, and reward it. Then, by using that result as an example to motivate others to produce their own successes, a leader will emerge from someone who began as a well-intentioned manager.


Mr. Teale is a senior medical consultant with the Eye Care Business Advisory Group of Allergan, Irvine, Calif. He can be contacted at teale_bob@allergan.com.

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