In Praise of Praise

Dear Coach,

I manage a team. What is your view on praising employees when they do what you expect them to do? I’ve heard the saying, “that’s what their paycheck’s for.” Do you agree?



Dear Anthony,

I fundamentally disagree with that conventional piece of “wisdom.”

One of the most important things you can do to create a great workplace culture is to give recognition and thanks when people do what you expect them to do. I’m not suggesting elaborate praise. Even a simple “thank you” can suffice. Your employees aren’t robotic paycheck cashers. They’re human beings, and recognition that what they do matters really does matter.

One of my organization culture heroes is Doug Conant. He is best known for his work as CEO of the then-ailing Campbell Soup Co. In 2001, business results were dismal and employee engagement was at rock bottom. With a relentless focus on workplace culture, Conant turned things around dramatically. In a Gallup survey 10 years later, Campbell Soup’s employee engagement scores outshone those of the other companies surveyed, and included a spectacular 17-to-1 engaged-to-disengaged employee ratio. (In 2001, the ratio was a nightmarish 1.67-to-1.) Over this time, total shareholder return went from a negative to exceeding industry and stock market benchmarks by multiples.

Among the things Conant did to change the culture were handwritten thank you notes to employees. In his 10 years, he handwrote over 30,000 thank you notes. These weren’t elaborate missives. Maria in Mexico City might get a note that says, “Hi Maria, I heard you worked an extra shift to get our products out on time to the customer. Thank you, Doug.”

I am confident that Conant’s practice and the dramatic financial and employee engagement turnaround at Campbell Soup were not coincidental.

Here’s my suggestion Anthony: Take five small objects and put them on your desk or in your pocket. Move one of them to the other pocket or another place on your desk each time you give recognition or thanks to an employee for something they did that’s worth repeating. Try to move all five each day.



Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at


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