Encouragement is not praise. Done well, encouragement can lead to success for an employee -- at which time praise is appropriate. You see, encouragement is the act of providing positive feedback that focuses specifically on effort and/or improvement, rather than specific outcomes. Praise is given when success has been achieved.
The ability to successfully encourage others through periods of difficult times and lack of progress is both a science and an art. There are techniques that you can use that will provide encouragement but they are only helpful if you are using your emotional intelligence during the process. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to adeptly read and respond to the emotional needs of others. Keen observation of body language, choice of words and interaction with others will be helpful in this process.
Here are seven techniques I recommend managers use to help encourage their team members:
1. Ask them what help they need.
Often times the simple question of “How can I help?” will start the process of encouraging an employee. Timing of this simple, but powerful, question is important and requires you have good observation skills. Watch and listen for changes in behavior, choice of words and body language. These can be hints that an employee is becoming discouraged and frustrated. And often all the help they need is talking through the situation and having an empathetic ear to listen to their challenges.
2. Coach them to discover choices.
When an employee gets stuck and isn’t making the progress they expect, frustration sets in. When you observe an employee frustrated, first reinforce the confidence you have in them based on previous accomplishments, skills and behaviors. Start asking them questions that will help them see how to become “unstuck." Ask enough questions for them to develop their own options on how to become successful. A little coaching can go a long way.
3. Recognize their small incremental wins.
These wins will include behavior change and skill mastery. Wins are not tasks that don’t demonstrate change. Managers often forget that the small wins deserve recognition so that employees know that they are making progress toward their bigger win. Recognizing positive change reinforces the employee’s understanding of what they need to continue doing. Don’t wait for the big wins, look for the small and recognize them, and more will come.
4. Thank them.
A leadership best practice often overlooked is thanking and praising employees six times for every time feedback is provided requiring change and adjustment from an employee. There are times when work effort may not equate to expected results. Just like a long distance runner being handed water during the race, this is your opportunity to thank them for their efforts, yet remind them that they haven’t yet reached the finish line.
5. Demonstrate your confidence in them.
When you practice encouragement, don’t keep it behind closed doors. Take the opportunity during meetings to practice encouragement so others can learn the art and science of it. Share their small wins with other team members, and ask others to recognize the small wins of team members. As time progresses, it should become more natural for team members to recognize each other’s contributions. The goal is to create viral encouragement.
6. Put them on stretch assignments.
Stretch assignments should be designed to:
- Provide a higher level of visibility
- Build on the strengths of the employee
- Develop new skills
- Assist the employee to advance towards their desired role in the organization
When you match a stretch assignment to the right employee, not only are you encouraging your employee, you are developing them for the future.
7. Help them get recognized by others.
Become your team members’ advocate. Share their work and accomplishments by communicating to other parts of the organization how their work has helped the organization get closer to the company vision or reinforced the values of the company. External recognition is just as important. If they have done stellar work, look for opportunities to nominate them for local professional awards. Local business newspapers and magazines often look for stories of professionals’ accomplishments.
Done consistently, encouragement will become a part of your culture. As a leader, when you model and practice encouragement techniques, your employees will start encouraging each other. When a company embraces encouragement, success follows. What do you plan to do differently to encourage your employees?