Part 1: Be Careful with Comparisons
Apples and bananas are both fruit. That does not mean comparing them as fruit makes them taste better.
“Joe was able to get 12 clients signed in period 4. You only got 2 Sally.”
By using direct comparisons, a leader may see opportunity to instill belief and motivation. While they may have best intentions, the effect rarely pans out. This technique has the potential to damage relationships and overall culture. It attempts at pointing out flaws by putting others on a pedestal, like to kicking them when they are down. The indirect messages are very negative:
“Not only did you not do well, but others are doing better.”
“Imagine what others think of you.”
“I like someone else more because they are doing better than you.”
Avoid comparing people, their results or motivations. Instead, compare behaviors or actions against a gold standard. Part of your mission and culture should strive to enunciate a relevant yet generic goal that encapsulates every role in the organization. With that as the bar, you can treat people the right way by comparing results to the gold standard. This put a friendly pressure on teammates to perform driven by internal motivation to do their part since this gives them choice to strive for better as if it was their idea.
Part 2: Do Not Dilute Praise
In the legal world, lawyers being promoted to name partner do not have their surnames mounted on the wall in multiples. Their work is full-on competition to the top and no one wants to share the glory of having the firm named after them if it means they go up there at the same time as a colleague.
For the leader, it is efficient to celebrate achievements in clusters, as one episode of praise. Whatever the mechanism of commendation, be it email, gift, public applause at a meeting or conference, a dinner invitation or a gold watch, the individual deserves their time in the spotlight.
Spacing out praise helps. There is something special about a 24-hour day that gives things a fresh start when the clock turns over. Praise separate events on separate days, allowing the recipients to share their day with their colleagues.
Alternatively, praising uniquely in different ways between employees somehow allows them to maintain the full glory to themselves rather than if they were acclaimed jointly.