Pete Friedes on Praise and Management

I wished I’d booked an hour or more for my interview with Pete Friedes.  He’s the retired CEO of Hewitt and Associates, a firm that under his leadership grew over 23% per year for 23 years.  Pete is an engaging guy and one who obviously knows how to grow the leadership skills of others.  He’s currently the architect of the organization “Managing People Better.”

Pete condensed his wisdom into his 2002 book “The 2R Manager: When to Relate, When to Require, and How to Do Both Effectively” which I plan to read very soon.

At the core of Pete’s wisdom is the belief that we need to do two things when we lead and manage — we need to maintain good relationships, and we need to require good performance.  And we need to do both of these at the same time, which is the hard part.

(read the complete article)

Relating consists of several skills:

  • Asking
  • Listening
  • Coaching
  • Encouraging
  • Including

Requiring consists of several other skills —

  • Creating common expectations
  • Insisting on excellence
  • Focusing on objectives
  • Creating appropriate controls
  • Following up
  • Solving complex problems

Most managers are better at one than the other — they lean one way or the other.  That’s normal.  However being effective requires us to be good at both skill sets.

Praise, my topic, is part of “Encouraging” — it helps us create the human connections that are part of the constellation of Relating.

The whole purpose of having the relationships is to be effective at getting things done — otherwise we don’t have a company, we have a club.  That means the manager has to be able to create common expectations.

It’s also vital for a manager to insist on excellence — that things be done the best way they can — yet that definition should be a shared definition, one that’s developed collaboratively and inclusively, with asking and listening.  So we’re constantly using elements of both these skill sets almost simultaneously.

Managers who start off with a dominant mode of Relating, can struggle to Require (just as most of the Requirers are weaker at Relating.)  A Relater may have a hard time asking for what he wants, may struggle to confront performance problems, may shrink back from dealing with people who need to be dealt with.

Why is there this tension between these two skill clusters?  I’m still not sure.  Nevertheless, we can all get better at both.  You can find out how you stack up personally by taking the free self-assessment at  This helps you find out what you need to do differently to be more effective as a manager.

It doesn’t matter which is your dominant style, as long as you do both.  If you are too excessive with your Requiring, you cannot Relate.  If you are too much of a Relater, you cannot require.  They only conflict if you do one to excess.  (This is not to say you cannot suck at both.  You can.  I have.)

When I’ve been managed and led by others, I’ve welcomed both — I’ve loved having good relationships with my bosses, and I love being able to do a good job and being challenged to rise to excellence.  I didn’t feel the conflict.  As soon as I started managing anybody, I immediately felt a tension between these two styles or skill clusters.  When I was focused on Requiring, I was worried I was losing the relationship.  When I focused on Relating, I was afraid I was being too weak on getting results.  Since I lean to Relating, I would err by avoiding conflict.

Since these are skills, we can get better.  (Long time listeners will note the parallels between Pete’s work, and Reut Schwartz-Hebron’s work with the KindExcellence Institute.)

Let’s agree then that behavior change is hard, that building new skills and habits can be hard, and that we are committed to doing so.  Where to start?

One place to start is by being more mindful — by noticing what we are doing as we do it.  Another is to notice what we are not doing, and take heart from knowing that this area of non-performance represents a huge opportunity.

Suppose we have a manager who doesn’t give praise.  We can honestly tell him, “Jim, you’ve got a great opportunity here.  People have gotten use to you being the old way.  As soon as you change a little, you’ll get credit for changing a lot.”

With praise, it’s fairly easy.  Just watch your people until you catch them doing something right.  Then tell them about it, be timely, be specific, and be honest.  You’ve either not done it before because you’re shy, or because you’re mean.  Or perhaps you’re conflicted because your people are doing other things that you don’t like, and you’re not sure how to praise the good things.

With praise specifically, just come out and say it, and then shut up.  Don’t feel you have to balance it out by also mentioning the things you don’t like, or areas where they could do better.

There are managers who worry that the employee will “take advantage of me if I tell him I like something he did” — that’s a wrong assumption, says Pete.  I suspect that managers who are uncomfortable with giving praise, will come up with a series of reasons not to do it, in order to avoid performing a behavior — giving praise — with which they are uncomfortable.

So, imagining a bunch of fears like “they’ll ask for more money” or the like can be just a defense mechanism.  Pete and I both think you can safely ignore these fears — these are not realistic.

In the past I’ve taught a couple of different scripts for giving praise, which always start off with the specific thing you saw the person do.  Start with one or more of the five senses — I saw this, or I heard you do that, or I smelled the coffee you brought, or whatever it was.  When you start with sensory input, you start with something they cannot argue with, and indeed they probably can relate your report to something they also experienced.  This creates common ground for the next step.  For example, “I saw you about an hour ago with that really angry customer who was shouting and waving her arms, and you listened, you did not interrupt, your voice remained level and quiet, and you were focused entirely on her.”

The second step can be either of two things (or both) — one is to tell them what impact their actions had, and the other is to tell them what character trait you see in them.  For example, an Impact statement might be, “I think you saved that customer relationship.”  A character assessment might be, “You showed that you have a lot of patience.”  And you can combine them.

Pete also thinks praise should be short.  Don’t do all the talking.  You want to get quickly back into a listening mode so you can see how your words are being received.

Not only must praise be honest, it must also be in the context of you not expecting anything from them right then — you are not buttering them up prior to asking a favor or imposing new work or delivering a criticism.  The praise needs to not be a pretext.

Sometimes people push back against being praised.  They may say “I could have done better.”  These folks are often perfectionists, or they are not used to getting praise.

If you stick with “I really liked that,” then there is not much room for them to resist.

This same pattern can also be used outside of praise to avoid fights — rather than starting with a conclusion, which can be argued, start with what you heard, then say how you interpreted it, and then say how you feel about it.

For example:  “I watched you and listened to you deal with that angry client.  You kept calm and you came across as very patient.  That made me feel good to have someone with your patience on the team, because we can really use that good example around here.”

Praise is part of Relating.  The other elements are:

  • Asking – not personal questions, just things you need to know.  Show interest.
  • Listening – perhaps the most important of the skills.  It shows respect.  You can disagree — listening does not imply agreement.  By listening you are showing you care and that you think the other person has something worth saying.
  • Including – give your people a voice in decisions that affect them.
  • Coaching – an environment of praise helps with coaching because it opens the other person up to your input.
  • Encouraging – includes praise.

Suppose I’m a Relater and don’t do a good job Requiring.  I start to make excuses for the other person before they do.  I want to please them — I don’t want to leave them feeling badly.  What’s a good way out of that?

First, develop some asserting skills.  Be able to say what you want.  Be able to say “I expect you to” or “I need you to…”  This can be very hard for a Relater to say.  Practice them.  It doesn’t feel bad to hear them, believe it or not.  It’s actually nice as a worker to be told what you’re expected to do.

Start of by asserting:  “I need…”  If they don’t do it, then you can move on to requiring.

The first skill set in overcoming low requiring is asserting.

One way to help yourself if you need to do better Requiring is by practicing the use of Standard Goal Language, which means you state Who will do What by When.  I’ve become able to be fairly hard-nosed around this even though I’m a Relater, and I’m comfortable asking for detail.  If I’m not clear on Who will do it, I’ll ask until it’s clear.

And, by introducing and sticking to this concept of Standard Goal Language, I’m setting clear expectations, which is part of the skill set of Requiring.

Pete adds, also set up checkpoints for when you will look back in to ensure things are going well.

Pete says he was always good at knowing what his people need to do better, however he typically didn’t have any idea how to make those changes.  So, his organization hired a lot of coaches to help with those changes.  Pete started off as CEO of Hewitt and Associates at age 28, and he wasn’t very good at praise.  He was, however, a pretty good listener even then, and he was told he wasn’t giving his people enough encouragement.

As he learned how to praise and as he practiced it, he was astonished at how much it helped his people perform better.

So go to Managing People Better, get your free assessment, and find out what you can do immediately to be an even better manager and leader.

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