The Power of Praise

Sept. 1, 2015
Could correcting someone’s mistakes lead to failure?

Failure in business can sometimes be a result of paying too much attention to mistakes and not enough attention to what’s done right. Let me give you a real-life example.

A number of years ago, I started a process where I would review all closed customer invoices and workflow paperwork. I would scrutinize every detail of the invoice, customer repair order, the technician’s work order and any customer follow-up recommendations that were needed. I would highlight all the mistakes and compile a stack of papers that needed attention. I would then hold an audit meeting with the service advisors and manager. One by one, I would go through all the mistakes the advisors made and discuss what needed to be improved upon. My intent: to get consistency and accuracy with our service staff and achieve better record keeping. The result: blank stares from the advisors and the sound of chirping crickets.

At one of the meetings I overheard one advisor mumble, “There’s the naughty pile again.” He was obviously referring to the stack of paperwork marked up with all the mistakes. All day long after that meeting, I kept thinking about what that advisor had said. Something was telling me that this strategy was not working.

Later that day, my manager Bill and I met to discuss the meeting. I asked Bill, “How long have we been conducting these audit meetings?” He replied, “Nearly a year now.” I asked how effective we were. Bill said not at all. In fact, the same mistakes were being made over and over.

I told Bill that we needed to suspend the audit meetings. I began to think about a new strategy. I asked myself how I would respond to a weekly meeting where all my mistakes were brought to my attention, over and over again. How would I feel? I realized that although my intentions were good, the focus was on the negative things being done, and not on any positive accomplishments of the advisors.

A new strategy was born; and it was simple. We do the opposite of what we were doing. Instead of reviewing a pile of paperwork and pointing out the mistakes, we would point out and praise what was done correctly and reinforce that behavior. Our goal was to produce positive emotions, not negative ones.

The first step was to hold meetings to review the workflow process, customer write-up, the sales process and car delivery. We reviewed the reasons why proper workflow documentation was so important and why customer follow-up recommendations were crucial to customer retention. It was important that each service advisor understand exactly what was expected of them.

Then came the defining moment; the next invoice audit meeting. At the meeting Bill and I focused on all the things that were done properly. We looked for reasons to praise and celebrate. We ignored the mistakes and put a focus only on what was done right. The result: an engaged discussion where all the advisors openly discussed the week. We maintained this strategy, and in a few months, that “naughty pile” began to shrink. We were moving in the right direction.

The key takeaway here is that people tend to shut down when others point out something negative about them or when they make a mistake. In contrast, people open up and their spirits lift when they are praised, recognized and receive positive reinforcement. Pointing out only when people fail puts that person in a state of despair, which will have a negative outcome.

When people feel despair, they want to forget the experience. When people have a positive, pleasurable experience, they want to relive that experience again. It’s as if they got an emotional reward. Consequently, they are more inclined to repeat the things again that they know will produce another positive experience.

Are there times when an employee needs to be told when they make a mistake? Of course there are. We can learn from our mistakes. But we need to understand that unless we give someone enough praise and positive reinforcement, any attempt at a reprimand or correcting a mistake will fall on deaf ears and actually work against us.

If you’re wondering if we solved all of the problems and eliminated all mistakes, the answer is no. That would be perfection, and that doesn’t exist. In life we strive for perfection but never actually attain it. What I can tell you is that there are a lot fewer mistakes being made and morale is up. And any movement in the right direction is a win for you and your business. 

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of Reach him at [email protected].

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