This article on "Inner Work Life" is an amazing bit of research - not so much for what it says, but for what it implies.
It may stun you, if you are a manager, to learn what power you hold. Your behavior as a manager dramatically shapes your employees’ inner work lives. But the key levers in your hands for driving motivation and performance may not be the ones you’d suspect.
At the same time, many managers feel powerless to affect their people. So what are these "key levers...for driving motivation and performance"?
It's not mere praise. Rather - and here I'm going beyond the authors of the study - it's a combination of attention and conditional praise.
Consider these employee behaviors and manager-supplied consequences.
Behavior 1 - employee does what he believes is a good job
Behavior 2 - employee does what he believes is a mediocre job
Behavior 3 - employee does what he believes is a poor job
Consequence 1 - manager praises employee behavior
Consequence 2 - manager ignores employee behavior
Consequence 3 - manager criticizes or corrects employee behavior
Consequence 4 - manager pays neutral attention (no praise or criticism)
Here's the resulting grid:
|B1 Good Job||B2 OK Job||B3 Bad Job|
|C1 Praise||Higher motivation and performance||Lower motivation; feels manipulated||Lower motivation; feels alienated, cynical|
|C2 Ignore||Lower motivation; Feels neglected
||Lower motivation; Feels neglected||Management are idiots; nothing I do matters|
|C3 Criticize or Correct||Strongly alienated; may become detached, angry||Alienated||Fair enough|
|C4 Neutral Attention||Okay||Positive||Management are idiots|
You begin to get the idea - as a manager you can do the exact same thing in different circumstances, and have wildly different consequences.
In other words, praise alone is not a Golden Ticket.