The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right.
Catching people doing things right is a powerful management concept. Unfortunately, most leaders have a genius for catching people doing things wrong. I always recommend that leaders spend at least an hour a week wandering around their operation catching people doing things right.
But I remind them that effective praising must be specific. Just walking around saying, "Thanks for everything," is meaningless. If you say, "Great job!" to a poor performer and, "Great job!" to a good performer, you sound ridiculous to the poor performer and you "demotivate" the good performer.
Catching people doing things right provides satisfaction and motivates good performance. But remember, give praise immediately, make it specific, and finally, encourage people to keep up the good work. This principle can also help you shine at home. It's a marvelous way to interact with and affirm the people in your life.
Don't wait until people do things exactly right before you praise them.
Many well-intentioned leaders wait to praise their people until they do things exactly right, complete the project, or accomplish the goal. The problem here is that they could wait forever. You see, "exactly right" behavior is made up of a whole series of approximately right behaviors. It makes more sense to praise progress—it's a moving target.
Can you imagine standing a child up and commanding him to walk, and then, when he falls down, yelling, "I told you to walk!" and spanking him? Of course not. You stand the child up, and he wobbles a bit. You shout, "You stood up!" and then shower him with hugs and kisses. The next day, he wobbles a step, and you are all over him with praise. Gradually, the child gains confidence until he finally walks. It's the same with adults. Catch them doing things right—and remember, in the beginning, approximately right is just fine.
What we give our attention to, grows.
The more attention you pay to a behavior, the more it will be repeated. Accentuating the positive and redirecting the negative are the best tools for increasing productivity.
Killer-whale trainers know that when you don't pay a lot of attention to what the animals do wrong but instead give a lot of attention to what they do right, they do the right thing more often. When trainers start working with a new whale, the whale knows nothing about jumping over ropes. The trainers begin with the rope underneath the water, high enough from the bottom for the whale to swim under. If the whale swims under the rope, the trainers don't pay attention, but every time he swims over the rope, they feed him.
Focusing on the negative often creates situations that demoralize people. When good performance is followed by a positive response, people naturally want to continue that behavior.