4 Keys to Delivering High Impact Praise

Some people like crunchy peanut butter while others prefer the creamy style. The important thing to know is who likes what. It’s the specifics that count – especially when it comes to recognizing and rewarding employees.

I once had the opportunity to spend a day observing Cindy Johnson, who is now a Community Banking President for Wells Fargo. I was able to ask questions about her leadership style and observe how she interacted with her employees. The day was spent visiting nearly all of her branches. The one thing that stood out for me was the time we spent at an in-store branch at a Safeway. Cindy greeted everyone warmly as she had done throughout the day. She called everyone by name and asked questions of everyone. She easily flowed between both personal questions and those regarding sales.

I had seen the same routine play out several times over the course of the day and saw little difference between her visits and the ones I routinely made. But then it happened. As we stood speaking with the Customer Service Manager, we all overheard a teller ask a couple of insightful questions of a customer and then listened as she made a recommendation which the customer gladly accepted.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Cindy grabbed my arm and pulled me into the aisles of the grocery store. She walked hastily until we stopped in front of shelves of peanut butter. She grabbed a jar of Skippy Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter and turned to me and said, “I am going to give her this peanut butter to Susan for the referral she just made.” I said, “Sounds great.” Cindy pressed me, “Do you know why I am giving her this peanut butter?” To which I answered, “… because she did a good job?” Cindy nodded and explained, “Because I heard her mention when we got here that she is almost out of peanut butter and I know she loves peanut butter. But not only does she love peanut butter, but Skippy Extra Crunchy and that’s why I’m going to give it to her.” 

With a beam in her eye, I watched as Cindy handed the peanut butter to Susan. She thanked her for asking such great questions and asked her to remind her what questions she had asked the customer. She then pointed out how Susan’s recommendation helped the customer and the branch make its goals which in turn helped the district. She explained how grateful and proud she was to have her on her team and for taking time to ask questions of our customers. As we departed, you could see the pride in Susan’s face and I swear she even appeared taller. It was as if she were now standing upon a magical box of increased self-confidence.

Below you’ll find a diagram extracted from the book Gung Ho. As you can see Cindy’s object lesson for me that day hit all the marks for providing positive precise praise. I encourage you to recognize those people in your life with their “Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter” when you catch them doing something you’d like to see repeated.

Be warned though, to provide such praise requires that your ears be open to all the opportunities surrounding you and the genuine desire to make a positive difference for those around you.


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