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How to Praise a Stellar Employee Without ‘Playing Favorites’

Don’t let your recognition of one employee hurt the rest of the team’s morale.

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BY Young Entrepreneur Council - 30 Jan 2019

how to praise an employee

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Every team has at least one rockstar employee who goes above and beyond. This person consistently delivers stellar work and is truly dedicated to the company's mission.

It's natural to want to publicly recognize these individuals for a job well done, and you should -- employee recognition is essential to building a happy, engaged workforce. However, if you're not careful, you may start to breed resentment among other team members who feel like they're competing with the teacher's pet.

Below, six entrepreneurs share their best tactics for rewarding your top performers, without appearing like you're playing favorites.

Set clear expectations on how to earn recognition.

Clear expectations are crucial to any successful team. If an employee doesn't understand what they must do to receive public recognition from you, it's reasonable that they'll feel slighted when someone else is praised. That's why you must set expectations up front, ideally from their first day on the job.

"By letting people know what you expect of them and how they can get recognition and rewards for a job well done, you'll be able to make it a fair playing field for everyone," says Blair Williams, founder and CEO of MemberPress. "From the start, each employee will know what they have to do to meet your expectations."

Be specific and factual with your praise.

Ill feelings about public recognition can occur when others perceive that an employee is being highlighted because the manager simply likes them best. David Ciccarelli, CEO of Voices.com, recommends being very specific about what that person did well.

"Include details about the project they completed and what they did to go above and beyond so there is no question about them being highlighted," he explains.

Highlight the whole team.

Angela Ruth of Calendar avoids team resentment by not singling out an individual, but instead talking about team contributions.

"I always emphasize how an individual helped us all out by what they did, showing that it is about the team, not just the person," Ruth says. "Taking that approach has never led to any resentment."

Encourage peer-to-peer recognition.

It's harder for employees to feel like a manager is playing favorites when other team members are giving praise, too. Stephen Beach, CEO of Craft Impact Marketing, says team members should be encouraged to celebrate each another's performance in an open forum.

"We must objectively recognize that each individual contributes to the team differently, and set the example of celebrating the different things that each person brings to the table," he explains. "Each person was hired because they have particular strengths, which can be leveraged for the greater success of the team."

Ask people how they want to be rewarded.

Modern leaders are often encouraged to manage and communicate with employees in a personalized manner that suits each individual. This applies to your recognition tactics, too.

Blair Thomas, co-founder of eMerchantBroker, believes in praising employees in ways that motivate each of them. If you ask people exactly how they want to be acknowledged and rewarded for their achievements -- and then follow through on that -- you can greatly reduce the chances of alienating your team. "The answers, and the number of answers you get, will surprise you," Thomas says.

Hire people with the right attitude about recognition.

If you really want to avoid a team that resents a colleague for being praised, it's essential to look for and weed out that type of attitude during the hiring process. Bringing the right people on board from day one will help you create a culture of celebrating victories and appreciating exceptional performance, says Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design.

"Make sure you build your team full of people with gratitude and appreciation as their default mindset," she adds. "Hire people who see other people's success as success of the whole company and want to celebrate with everyone."

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