Applause doesn’t cost a Dime

September 6, 2007 at 7:53 am 3 comments

A teacher once inadvertently taught me, that the world I was growing into was going to be a strange and peculiar place. At the age of 12 or so I’d received back a test of some sort, most likely Math, but while the lesson taught is bright, the memories of the details are dim. My score was 97% and curiosity demanded I know where I’d lost the sliver of accuracy. That evening I pored over the test, but could find no fault.

The next day after class, I humbly asked where I’d made an error, but was simply told – “You made no error, but nobody deserves 100%” – forty years later, that statement still echoes loudly in my mind, and sadly resonates with much of my experience with people, both management and staff.

Her statement that “nobody deserves 100%” isn’t a philosophical observation, that like Persian rugs, all things must contain a flaw in the real world. Instead, her view was that effort and achievement aren’t worthy of recognition.

This perspective on praise and reward is shared knowingly, and unknowingly, by many. While coaching a manager with “people skills” he admitted could use some improvement, he confided in me that his current staff were amazing, he’d never had better employees.

When I asked if he told them that, he was horrified, “If I did that they’d know I needed them. Praise would make them more powerful. I never praise staff. I always demand more from them.”

Echoes from my past… nobody deserves 100%

Another incident was more personal. At a time of crisis I and a number of other staff worked through the weekend, catching sleep from time to time on couches, and delivered a solution before business began on Monday. The manager who’d had family plans that weekend, stood up to accept praise from upper management at a Wednesday lunch and never mentioned any of those who did the work. I quit two weeks later.

More echoes the past… nobody deserves 100%

Praise, recognition and thanks don’t cost much. A casual “Thank you. Great job.” suffices when more isn’t possible. What they purchase is beyond value. Motivation to succeed again. Loyalty to the one giving praise. A sense of worth and accomplishment.

All teachers are ‘good’ teachers, some even know what lessons they’re imparting, others have no idea.


Entry filed under: Leaders, Leadership, Management, Managing, Project Management, recognition.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. craigprice  |  September 6, 2007 at 9:26 am

    I’m not so sure this practice of not praising is going to work with the new generation now entering the workplace. This new generation of kids have been told by their parents how special and unique they are every step of the way. They are praised, possibly more than their abilities. Maybe it was because they were told “nobody deserves 100%” (which is absolute rubbish. You do a perfect job, you should get a perfect grade).

    Many companies I work with have noticed that to motivate younger employees, praise must be given and given often. In the past, you earned a gold star when you completed a task. Now, they praise when they meet benchmarks on the way to the completed task. Now instead of challenging students to reach goals, they lower the requirements so more students “pass” tests and I see that reflected in college enrollment as well.

    I agree praise should and needs to be given. But I don’t think the coming generations will lack praise, just the accomplishments to equal the praise they generate.

  • 2. Dermot Casey  |  September 7, 2007 at 11:42 am


    there is a healthy balance to be achieved here. Always praising is as meaningless as never praising. Grade inflation which seems to be a global phenomena is a case in point (the counter of your problem). Alfie Kohn also has some interesting things to say about praise in “Punished by Rewards”.


  • 3. technobility  |  September 7, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    I agree with both comments. The value of praise is diminished if it’s given out for showing up, or breathing. Praise isn’t/shouldn’t be given for the ordinary, but for the ‘above the call of duty’ or at least for ‘above average’ performance.

    A balance needs to be struck, but we’re so far on the low side, that most of us will take a while before we over do it.

    Enjoy the weekend


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