On praise and jerks

943692760_1183917842 It’s an age old problem.  How do you recognize someone without risking forgetting others?  And what about that complete jerk who seems to always do things to make those above him (or her) happy at the expense of everyone else.

I’ve come to learn that the approach people take with this depends a lot on their personal bias toward praise.  If you have a strong personal bias to praise (or dare I say a culture of thanks) you probably want to err on the side of inclusion and define those who are entitled to praise very broadly.

If you are uncomfortable receiving praise you might be inclined to limit the praise you give, saving it for those who have done the truly extraordinary.

In my experience, limiting praise is a way more dangerous strategy.  It introduces the opportunity for jealousy and bad feelings from the team.

Having a strategy for praise is important as is understanding the connection between recognition and performance. The key is to make sure it’s authentic and earned.

Finally, for those of you who are afraid that praise will lead to entitlement, here is a great article that suggests you are wrong.

Give praise for your teams when they get it right, and you will be amazed what they can accomplish.  Everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done.

A thought about role models

3805440296_090547b368Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact I need more role models in my life.  Ironically, we don’t seem to talk about role models for adults, we think they are only useful for children.

I am guessing that this is a bit of a cultural bias, based upon the assumption that when we are adults we are fully formed into who are will be for the rest of our lives.  So first, we need to re-frame that world view a bit.

Like most people I see myself as evolving and growing.  Both in my job and in my life.

As I grow, I find that observing others who do what I want to do (and do it well) is a great way to pick up techniques and skills.  I do not need these people to be my mentor (in many cases I might not even need them to know I see them as a role model) I just need to be in situations where I can watch and observe.

When my oldest daughter was two and a half (and not yet in school or having a younger sister) she used to model others openly.  Once, when she was with the nanny at the grocery, she saw a little girl with her mom and said “hey, there’s a little girl, let’s follow her!”.

So if you happen to notice me following you at the grocery*, you just might be someone I am trying to use as a role model.  Just stay calm and feel confident, that you are probably someone I find inspiring and hope to become someday.  And if you happen to notice someone who is wildly successful and showing great polish in their personal presence send along their name so I can track down where they shop.


*Editors note: the Meg in a grocery is pure fiction, I haven’t been regularly in a grocery for years.

Are your incentives working against high performance?

354260437_c62113ba63Is it possible that financial incentives can have a negative impact on performance?  Dan Pink makes an outstanding case for the idea that traditional incentive programs work very well but only for limited types of problems.   Mechanical tasks, things with known processes and a consistent outcomes see improvement with financial incentives.

On the other hand, problems and jobs that require creative thinking can actually have decreased performance with financial incentives.

Of course, how many of us have jobs that do not require creative thinking and problem solving? How many of our businesses only require consistent execution of repetitive tasks?

Dan’s point is that the three things that impact performance in a cognitive-heavy job are:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Once pay is fair and appropriate, you need to look at harnessing the unseen intrinsic drivers in people to create high performance results.

To my mind, this is just another way to look at a companies responsibility for Job Fit.  It’s not just about wanting to have a touchy-feely place to work, it’s about beating the competition in productivity.


h/t to my buddy CK for the link.  Anyone else out there wish they could see TED in person?  I’ll bet it’s a lot of fun.

Confessions of a needy overachiever

2842830409_c270191833By now you all realize I’m a bit of a Hermione Granger, overachieving, overdoing, inclined to study for tests that aren’t ever going to happen.

I cannot remember a time when this was not true.  All I can tell you is that this is not something I try to do, this is something I cannot keep myself from doing.  It is core to my personality.

I am also quite aware of how annoying this can be to the rest of the population.  I actually spend time worrying about how my need to overachieve, might make others annoyed and attempt to hide achievements at times.  I know, its odd, what can I say?

In recent weeks, I’ve been noticing a few things that are not so obvious byproducts  of this personality core.

  1. I do not like to be threatened to do something — very strangely, if you point out something you need from me I will do everything I can to get it done for you.  Even if it’s only a secondary or tertiary kind of priority.  If I can achieve it I will.  No questions asked.  BUT if you threaten me to do it, I will respond in the opposite.  I will actually get rebellious and combative.  I’m sure this is an overreaction to the kind of respect I feel I should get for the overachieving side, but it’s there just the same.  As you can imagine this could be [is] wildly career limiting at times.
  2. I need to be recognized — this one is a little more complex than it sounds.  Ironically, in this area I don’t really need to be recognized personally.  I take it as a given that I will want to overachieve, and as long as there is a slight nod to the fact that I’m doing well, it’s all good.  BUT when it comes to my products I actually need to be LOVED.  I get real joy from being able to create something that  meets the needs of the customer, in a way that gets them excited.  It is that excitement, that practical sense that we have met the goal of a product release, that keeps me going.

Without positive feedback on my products, I get a bit cranky and depressed.  When positive feedback comes, I feel joy and purpose.  I can’t really imagine being in a job where I don’t get that kind of recognition, since it really sustains me.  This is probably why I’ve kept at this job for such a long time.

Yes, this does make me needy, but it is a need to be useful.  The need to put my core overachieving self to use on something that actually matters.  For without that I am just working hard and frankly I’m not a fan of the work, I’m a fan of the results.

What about you?  What is the thing that really keeps you going?