We are all aware of the stimulating effects of a word of praise. Generally speaking, praise carries with it acceptance and recognition -- which we all crave for. Its positive effects on human behaviour are explained in many behavioural and motivational theories that do the rounds in management circles. As per Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, it would represent the fulfillment of a desire for social support and esteem. For transactional analysis buffs, it would be a “stroke”, helping to satisfy a hunger for recognition. In any case, human beings from children to adults respond to a good word, and there can be no doubt that words of praise can help a manager to get more out of his colleagues and subordinates.
Does this mean that a manager can simply praise his way to greater productivity? Of course not. The reality is that all people and situations are not the same. Perhaps in Utopia, where nothing goes wrong, we could sing each others praises throughout the day. But here on Planet Earth, things go wrong often enough....and surely you wouldn’t praise anyone for that, would you? Furthermore, if showering praises helps in getting things done, it could also bring in complacency. Which brings us to reprimands. If doing the right thing deserves a praise, then a wrong warrants a reprimand. After all, Macgregor’s Theory X and Theory Y are well known, and the carrot-and-stick approach to managing people is widely practised. Reprimands may generate mental stress, but unlike severe stress which is detrimental, a mild degree of stress among team members can in fact be beneficial and could help get more things done.
As the leader of a team, a manager sets the pace for the team members. By a balanced mix of praises and reprimands, the manager can contribute to the motivational status of individual members. An interesting viewpoint is provided by the bestselling book The One Minute Manager by Blanchard and Johnson, which focusses on goal setting, praising and reprimanding. Praises and reprimands need to be appropriately delivered as relevant. To be effective, both praises and reprimands must be specific and relevant. They should not be out of proportion to the matter on hand. Also, an employee who has been reprimanded for doing something wrong could, in all fairness, expect to be praised for doing things right. Thus the matter should be approached with objectivity, and striking the right balance would earn for the manager the respect of his subordinates.
Of course, there is more to good management than praising and reprimanding. A good manager could be a friend, philosopher and guide to the team members, guiding them through rights and wrongs. A pat on the back for a job well done, a rap on the knuckles for an error, and an ability to make people do what they don’t want to do, and yet to like it. Perhaps these wise words, which I came across somewhere, will sum it up : A good manager is one who can step on your shoes without spoiling their shine.