Written by Rachel MorrisonJune 17, 2016

“You are the best dance act I have seen all series”, says Simon Cowell, in front of over 9 million TV viewers.

Praise indeed from an entrepreneur who doesn’t offer approval without consideration. However, when these words have been uttered to three different dance acts over the week of Britain’s Got Talent and numerous acts over my ten years working on the show, you start to wonder about their sincerity. That said, let us not underestimate the motivational that power words of praise – genuinely delivered – can give and, indeed, the ease with which a few free words can galvanise teams, incentivise individuals and provide the perfect route to better efficiency. As the dance teams walk off, you can always see the immediate punch of joy, excitement and determination to make the final that these words of acclaim have created.

Anyone who has ever been around children will know that praise and incentives work – but why should these potential motivational heavyweights be consigned to the primary school?

Praise and recognition is not only the most cost-effective method of motivating a team, it can be one of the most powerful. So why are we, as managers, inherently not very good at it? Is it because this gives the workforce a perception of you being too cuddly and caring a manager? Is being upfront with your thanks in some way perceived to be weak? Or maybe it is just that with the demands of daily budgeting and workload it can be challenging to offer the time and commitment to focus on ensuring that your team’s specific achievements are noted and celebrated.

Contrary to these perceptions, thanking and praising your team empowers both them and you. Especially when delivered during one-on one meetings with staff members, praise ensures that your team feels valued, cared for and incentivised. During this time of austerity, it couldn’t be more important to provide this vital support to your staff which is often lost when clients, deadlines and pressures hang over you, like dumbbells from your ears!

MIT did a series tests in relation to motivating factors. Their findings found something that contradicted the accepted belief that business is built around monetary carrots and sticks: so long as tasks solely involved technical skill, wage increases acted as a good motivator. However, as soon as the tasks became more creative, large monetary rewards led to poorer performance. On the other hand, a simple specific word of praise was effective in all situations.  This was tested again in southern India and the same results occurred.

With creative industries generating £8 million per hour in the UK, it is crucial to find motivators that work. 

Roberta Chinsky Matuson, author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, suggests that employee recognition is the best route to increased productivity. In particular, the “generation of a sense of achievement, the nurturing of involvement and the relinquishing of control” are extremely important factors.

But how do we cultivate an environment in which team members are thanked, celebrated for their initiative and acknowledged? I would argue that this is relatively simple: keep the lines of communication open and spare the time for your team in both formal and informal settings.

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This will enable you to use your motivational armoury of thanks in many ways both at one-to-one and team level. Taking the team out for drinks or a meal or, even better, paying for them to attend a Nomad screening in one of the venues across town after work is also a great opportunity to ensure that they feel thanked and appreciated. At the same, you will be giving back, as all profits raised from the Nomad go to support sustainability initiatives for communities in South Africa.  

Unlike Britain’s Got Talent, you may not have “the best dancers all series” within your team, or even the “best dancing dog” in Britain. But a word of praise goes a long way to inspire determination, drive and ambition in your team. We would do well to remember the words of Fatboy Slim: “I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should.”

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