The Real Power of Positive Praise: A True Story

I had just taken over a small group of radio stations, and we were cash-starved.

Due to poor management of those who had preceded us and rapid industry deregulation, creditors were knocking at our door on a daily basis and paychecks were routinely 1-2 weeks late.

A new surprise—not the good kind, like an IRS agent paying us a visit asking for unpaid withholding tax—seemed to pop up at every turn as sales swooned. Yet, amazingly, morale was high.

The staff understood the reasons why we had these problems, and, every individual was committed to helping solve them. At our first staff retreat, held at a hotel whose rooms we bartered for radio air time, I presented an award that through the years became one of the most coveted awards to receive in the company.

The Golden Sandals

In preparing for the retreat, I thought of the people who had worked extra hard to get us back on track. One person came to mind who had in the month prior really gone the extra mile. She worked extra long hours, took on extra responsibility, and shown an extraordinarily high level of commitment to our recovery.

A saying from the Bible popped in my head, “If someone asks you to go with him one mile, go with him two.” I was inspired! I took an old pair of my wife’s sandals, spray-painted them gold, and glued them to a wood plaque covered in red velvet I found in the garage.

The next day I made the presentation. I recounted the incredible things this person had done and presented her with, ta-da, The Golden Sandals!

This is the Corniest Story You’ve Ever Heard, Right?

All right, I know what you’re thinking. This is the corniest story you’ve ever heard. And I would agree with you, except … except what happened next. The Golden Sandals began to take on a life of their own.

At our social events every three months or so, each recipient of The Golden Sandals was given a chance to pass them on to someone else in the company who, like them, had gone the extra mile. In doing so, they had to tell why this person earned the award and what they appreciated about this person.

People would stand up, both men and women, and start talking with tears rolling down their cheeks what another person on our staff team meant to them. The recipient would take the award, display it proudly in their work area, and give it away with the same reverence with which it had been received.

At one of our events, as a complete surprise, a staff member gave a typically touching Golden Sandals speech and gave the award to me. I felt my throat tighten, my eyes well with tears, and thought to myself, “This is a stupid pair of sandals my wife never wore and a block of wood I found in the garage!”

But it really was more than that. It was a workplace revolution. It was the triumph of positive actions over negative circumstances by intentionally focusing on what people were doing right, instead of focusing on what had gone wrong.

The Real Power of Positive Praise

That’s the real power of positive praise, it brings out the best in people and energizes them to give 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time. When you consider the fact that disengaged employees cost businesses $350 billion a year, this is no mere “soft skill.”

MORE: Once a Year is Not Enough: 3 Incredible Simple Ways to Thank Your People

And while it’s nice to receive recognition for being a great place to work, it’s even better to cash the checks that come as a result. Because, quite simply, leaders who consistently encourage their people create employees who are fully engaged who, in turn, win customers who become raving fans that bring significant growth to your business’ bottom line

So go out to your garage, find a block of wood and a can of paint, and start your own revolution.