Quick Praise Gets Results
The One Minute Manager

Quick Praise Gets Results

To motivate your staff members – and to get the results you want – catch people doing something right and praise them immediately and in public.   

Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson first earned best-selling attention and management guru status with this short volume of pithy advice published in 1982.

They begin with a young man who is trying to figure out what makes a manager effective. He compared tough bosses who emphasize results with “nice” bosses who emphasize people. Deciding which priority works best stymies him until he meets the “One Minute Manager,” a leader who supports both employees and outcomes.

The one-minute manager explained some core ideas, most notably, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results.”

Blanchard and Spencer use this star character, the one-minute manager, to suggest three methods managers can use to “help people reach their full potential.” He outlines “One Minute Goal Setting” to boil goals down to one page; “One Minute Praising” to give workers clear, brief compliments; and the “One Minute Reprimand” to tell workers quickly how they’ve erred while letting them know that you see their value as human beings and as employees.

To help people perform at their peak, the mythical minute manager suggests that you should “catch them doing something right” and offer immediate praise. He tells his young friend not to feel threatened by encouraging other people to reach their potential. His counsel is that the more your employees’ succeed, the higher you – their boss – will climb in your company.

Blanchard and Johnson suggest praising staff members as soon as they do something well. Make sure their colleagues know you’ve praised them. When you praise people, look them directly in the eye and tell them exactly what they did right. Tell them how good you feel about their accomplishment. This helps employees become more aware of their top scores, so they will start praising themselves.

Setting and Meeting Goals

Goal-setting follows the 80/20 principle, which means that 80% of your desired results will come from only 20% of your goals. Blanchard and Johnson advise prioritizing that 20% of your goals that garners the greatest returns. Select three to six goals, and share them with your employees. Make sure they understand that you see these goals as their main responsibilities and will hold them accountable for those targets. Once you set responsibilities for your employees, clarify your expected “performance standards.” Honor those who reach them.

Spencer and Johnson urge you to encourage your employees to identify and solve their own problems. If they need help, don’t focus on their attitudes or feelings. Help them analyze what’s happening in observable, measurable terms. If they can’t explain their problem, the authors maintain, they’re just complaining. The authors assert that a real problem exists only when there is a difference between what an employee wants to happen and what is happening. Your employees, they say, should be able to determine the best thing to do by creating different solutions and analyzing possible outcomes.

Managers who set clear goals and guide their people by praising and reprimanding in short, precise messages, must master honest communication, respect their workers, and put forth the time and energy to watch new staffers closely for significant periods of time. This advice marks where The One Minute Manager’s real-world problems begin.

Pat Homilies

Six staffers report to the book’s one-minute manager, a figure who apparently only supervises and counsels. The book doesn’t address strategy, planning, corporate organization or company policies. Blanchard and Johnson tend to indulge in disingenuous management-speak and use pat homilies. These slogans flew to the top of the charts in 1982, but might provoke modern workers to roll their eyes. The ideas that “Nobody ever really works for anybody else” and “I don’t make decisions for other people” couldn’t be true even in the universe of the book’s fictitious firm. Unless you own the company – and even then you have a board and investors – someone has executive and veto power and makes decisions for other people. 

One-minute magic seems best designed for established businesses that can take fast action in stable situations and not for companies facing rapid change.

Feedback

Blanchard and Spencer’s advice that consistent, objective feedback shows your concern for your employees seems more durable. Correctly presented, feedback can boost employees’ dedication, commitment and performance. Improving your employees’ performance also pays off financially.

The most productive minute you can put in, Blanchard and Johnson explain, is the one you spend “investing” in your people. Feedback about results is “the number one motivator.” Receiving high-quality feedback enables people to adjust their behavior. For example, when someone is bowling, he or she needs to see the pins. As the pins fall or remain standing, a bowler immediately understands the results of his or her effort. That is instant feedback.

“NIHYSOB”

The authors caution against the common, unfair mistake of not telling people what you expect of them and then telling them they did something wrong when they didn’t do what you expected. This is the NIHYSOB (or gotcha) approach to employee management. The acronym means “Now I have you, you SOB!” Insecure or incompetent managers revel in this attitude because it puts an employee on the defensive or in the wrong. NIHYSOB often rears its ugly head when mediocre or easily threatened managers conduct performance reviews. Few tactics irritate employees more or do a better job of spurring them to seek employment elsewhere.

Few moments in The One-Minute Manager date it quite as much as this sort of outdated slang and clumsy acronym. NIHYSOB best illustrates the difference between the era of the authors’ writing and today. But it is handy as a bona fide worst example. If you can read the NIHYSOB section and still recognize this book’s underlying worth and timeless message, then the book’s slightly dated style won’t put you off its better bits of advice.

Conditioning Behavior

Spencer and Blanchard advise reviewing your goals and checking your achievements against those goals. When you think about your objectives, examine your performance and ask yourself if your behavior matches your goals. And now that you’ve checked yourself, check your staff. If an employee’s behavior doesn’t match your goals, apply the principles of conditioning to help the staff member align his or her behavior more closely. The process works like training pigeons. To train a pigeon to walk to a pellet machine in the far corner of a box, you draw a line near the entrance at the opposite corner. Each time the pigeon crosses the line, you reward it with a food pellet and draw new lines further from the entrance and closer to the pellet machine. Eventually the pigeon will run to the far corner to get the pellets. Reward people every time they come closer to their goals. Reward by reward, they will manifest the desired behavior or achieve the set goals.

Or, given that your staff members are human beings and not pigeons, just tell them what you want – in a minute-long message if you can – and show them that you recognize their efforts when they succeed.

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