So what is it? It’s “FRE(E) – the Frequent Recognition & Encouragement” effect.© And, of course, it’s free. FRE(E) is a concept we’ve developed for our coaching and consulting practices.
In a research study Margaret Greenberg conducted in 2006 with a fellow University of Pennsylvania colleague and PPND author, Dana Arakawa, Margaret and Dana found that managers who provided frequent recognition and encouragement saw an increase in productivity of 31%. Employees were asked a series of statements such as “My project manager recognizes my accomplishments regularly” and follow-up questions such as “How frequently and in what ways does your project manager offer encouragement and/or recognize accomplishments?” Their answers to these and other questions were then compared to the results of the projects they worked on. Did these projects meet or exceed budget, schedule and quality standards?
What Margaret and Dana found was managers who provided FRE(E) had significantly higher project performance. Specifically, managers who scored in the top FRE(E) quartile achieved an average project performance score of 17.75 (out of a 20-point scale), while those managers who scored in the bottom FRE(E) quartile achieved only an average project performance score of 11.55. (See the Gallup Management Journal coverage of this study here and here, or download the full study here).
Why Doesn’t Everyone Use FRE(E)?
So why don’t more managers tap into this simple, yet powerful way to improve productivity? First, Lean Six Sigma and other process-related productivity tools have taught us that to improve productivity we must analyze, measure, and evaluate the work. We come to believe that nothing is simple. While we are certainly advocates of improving work processes, we also know that you can improve productivity by focusing on the worker by giving FRE(E).
In our coaching and consulting practices we have discovered four other reasons managers choose not to offer FRE(E) – all of which center around personal biases:
- “I’m too busy.” Some managers get so caught up in the day-to-day work that they believe they don’t have time to say “thank you”.
- “That’s what they get paid to do.” Some managers believe that the paychecks employees receive are enough to keep them engaged and motivated to perform what’s expected.
- “It’s too early to celebrate – we haven’t completely implemented this yet.” Some managers believe they must wait until the end of a project before they can provide recognition because who knows what could go wrong.
- “I don’t like or need encouragement to do my job.” Finally, some managers say they personally don’t like to receive recognition and encouragement from their managers and then assume their employees feel the same.
In the same 2006 research study, Margaret and Dana asked employees to rate the statement “My Project Manager regularly provides encouragement to me.” Out of the 79 employees who responded to that statement, only 16% “agreed a lot” while another 24% “agreed a little.” Sadly, that’s less than half of the employees surveyed!
How Do I Recognize FRE(E)?What does FRE(E) look like? Just like goals, frequent recognition and encouragement needs to be specific. In addition, FRE(E) needs to be genuine. Just saying “nice job” is not enough and can even be perceived as insincere (as Doug Turner describes). In fact, that’s why FRE(E) often gets short shrift because the employee is left feeling like his manager really doesn’t know what it took to get the job done. In the business world we rarely use the term “praise” when we talk about providing positive feedback to employees. However, there are findings from positive psychology research on praise that business leaders need to know. Research studies by Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University have found that process praise is more effective than person praise (for more detail about process praise, see these past PPND articles by Nicholas Hall, Kathryn Britton, Bridget Grenville-Cleave, and Gloria Park).
Be specific. Acknowledge exactly what your employee did – the process – to make that customer happy or meet that deadline. And be genuine: that means providing eye contact if you are giving the feedback in person. But what if your employee is working remotely? How do you convey your sincerity over the phone? Stop multi-tasking. Stop whatever else you’re doing (yes, turn away from your computer screen) and focus exclusively on the person at the other end of your phone. When you’re really present, your sincerity will come right through those phone lines.