Heads up, HR leaders: Your front-line managers have tough questions about leadership, and they’re afraid to ask.
Why wouldn’t they ask, you wonder? It’s often because they fear the questions are insensitive, complaint-like or naïve.
Liz Uram, trainer, speaker and author of four books, including Communicate Like a Boss: Every Day Leadership Skills That Produce Real Results, boldly puts the questions – and their answers – out there.
Most of their questions are centered around employee praise and communication. After all, everyone knows it’s important to communicate enough and give praise, but it can be awkward for many front-line managers.
“One of the most important communication skills in a leader’s skill kit is the ability to give positive feedback. This is also one of the most underdeveloped skills for many leaders,” Uram says. “The reason is that some leaders just don’t know where to start.”
‘Why should I praise people for just doing their jobs?’
To some, this question sounds insensitive.
But to front-line managers who always did their job without expecting balloons and banners, it’s real and simple. And the answer is simple:
“Two words: positive reinforcement,” Uram says. “What gets rewarded gets repeated. If you want them to keep doing their job let them know that their work is appreciated.”
‘We pay well. Shouldn’t the money be enough motivation?’
In a word, no. Some employees may get enough out of the paycheck. Others don’t. And it’s leaders’ jobs to motivate as necessary.
“The best leaders understand that everyone is different and they meet people … without judgment,” Uram says.
Front-line managers want to check in with employees to find out if their motivation is cash, recognition, challenging work, growth opportunities, job security, etc. Then they can meet with HR leaders to create a plan that works for each employee.
‘How can I possibly praise them without sounding phony?’
Front-line managers who don’t fully understand why they need to praise people for hitting expectations might sound insincere. But they won’t if the praise is:
- Specific: Skip “Good job” and say exactly what happened and why it’s important. Example: “Thanks for jumping in to help with that order. The extra effort for the team will help us reach the monthly goal even sooner.”
- Timely: Praise immediately.
- Sincere: If you get the first two right, you’ll be sincere.
‘I don’t need to cause resentment. Can’t I just send an email?’
Sometimes, yes, front-line managers actually can because “you should give your praise where the employee is most comfortable,” Uram says.
But they don’t want to shy away from public praise because you’re afraid it’ll make other employees jealous.
“Looking for opportunities to give shout-outs for positive behaviors, both big and small, in public creates a culture of appreciation,” Uram says.
‘I gave a good performance review. Isn’t that enough for this year?’
Not quite, but “praising too often can be as bad as not praising often enough. Running around giving high-fives, thumbs up, and generic ‘thanks’ is exhausting for you and uninspiring to your team,” Uram says.
A good rule of thumb for front-line managers: Praise each employee once a week. And don’t say to yourself, “but some people don’t do praise-worthy work for weeks.”
Look harder for positive behavior. Thank people for showing up, getting work done, sharing, being on time to meetings, smashing a goal, etc.