The Power of Praise and Compliments

Katy Montgomery

Katy currently serves as the Global Director of the Career Development Centre at INSEAD where she manages career services professionals across three campuses: Abu Dhabi, Fontainebleau, and Singapore. Katy previously served as the Associate Dean for Student Development at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

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Recently, the Today Show featured a segment about a teacher, Chris Ulmer at Mainspring Academy, a school for students with special needs and learning challenges. Every school day, Ulmer spends 10 minutes telling his students how special they are, focusing on their strengths and commending them on their areas of improvement.

Ulmer’s kind words and interest in his students have resulted in his students having increased confidence and have overall improved the class environment; students now compliment each other. I encourage you to watch the video. It is inspiring.

When I saw this segment, I immediately thought of the Gallup poll which determines employee engagement. A number of large companies use the poll, including Wells Fargo, CarMax, Hyatt, and Nationwide Insurance (all of these happen to be 2015 Gallup Great Workplace Award Winners). JHU (including Carey Business School) conducts the Gallup poll every two years and Johns Hopkins Medicine conducts the poll every year. The Gallup poll asks only 12 questions. Here are a few of those questions:

  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition and praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person.
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?

Think about these questions and then think about what Ulmer says to his students. Saying thank you, recognizing people as individuals, encouraging one’s development, and noticing people’s improvements—it makes a difference. And that difference can be as simple as encouraging one individual or changing the culture of a Fortune 100 company.

When was the last time you praised your classmate on doing good work on a team presentation? When was the last time you took the time to ask someone about her weekend? When was the last time you encouraged a rising student leader’s development in your student organization? And, in the last six months (we have officially hit month six of the Academic Year), have you checked in about a classmate’s progress?

These small acts can have such huge implications.

What if someone told you every morning you were special? Or brilliant? Or funny? Or amazing?

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