Sometimes praise has a price

di AM il 18 gennaio, 2014

Excessive praise

Some time ago I was thinking about how dangerous praise can be: I’m sure you’ll find the following story quite instructive.

Goods duly delivered. Enjoy your holiday.

Excellent emergency management! Congratulations.

Thank you. I hope you’ll remember that when you’re approving salary raises!

These text messages exchanged were in a few minutes by manager and subordinate last year, on the 28th of December 2009.

And here’s the story.

John, the boss, is about to leave for his holidays on the 23rd of December when a problem arises in the manufacturing department regarding an order commissioned by a major customer.

According to the order, a large goods delivery is scheduled for the 27th of December.

Since John finds it hard to delegate (no-one else does things quite like him…), the matter is entirely in his hands.

What should he do? Leave for the holiday or lose the deposit and start a family war?

It’s better to leave for the holiday, handing the matter over to Ludmilla, his most trusted subordinate. She suffers – professionally speaking – for two reasons: the lack of autonomy her boss gives her, and the meagre salary, which in her opinion is not even up to the market minimum standard for that kind of position (she hasn’t had a raise for several years).

So, Ludmilla finds herself handling the problem, with the few fragmented pieces of information she has been given: it is impossible to contact John, whose mobile phone has been continuously unreachable since 1 pm on the 23rd of December. After all, everybody knows how hard it is to get a signal in the mountains …

John does not enjoy his Christmas. He spends the 24th and 25th of December planning a believable strategy to go back to the office without upsetting his wife too much, since she chose to stay in a hotel precisely to contain her husband’s “workaholism”.

Strangely enough, the 27th goes by quietly, and he gets no phone calls from his boss summoning him back to work. Meanwhile, he has already started “preparing” his family for his departure – surely only for a day or two, just enough time to put things right – and he can see a few long faces around.

Then, on the morning of the 28th, the big surprise: the goods were successfully delivered on the evening of the 27th. Everybody is happy.

Ludmilla pulled it off!

John is in his seventh heaven: he does not need to go back to the office and can focus on restoring peace within the family.

However, in the following days a few troubling thoughts start accompanying him on the ski slopes.

How did Ludmilla manage it?

What if it now turned out that he is not so indispensable after all?

And what should he do about the salary raise? These days, a raise is like a lottery win, everybody knows that.

Until now he has managed to avoid any form of acknowledgement, but this time it’s a serious matter …

Excellent emergency management, he’d texted her.

Big words, words he could never take back. Obviously written on a wave of relief that the danger had passed, but still, he’d written them.

What will John do? I don’t know, I’ll let you know.

I only hope that John learns a few key lessons from this experience:

  • subordinates are not wallpaper: they need to be helped to take on responsibilities compatible with their role and with their skills and competencies;
  • praise is irreplaceable in reinforcing desirable behaviour, but the panegyric can be very, very dangerous.

Do you agree with me?

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