Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Praising an Employee: GM Chairman’s Uninspiring Performance Yesterday

By now you’ve probably seen the widely broadcast video clip showing General Motors Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. making the surprise announcement about CEO Fritz Henderson’s sudden departure. What struck me most about that video clip was the manner in which Mr. Whitacre delivered his words of praise for Mr. Henderson’s role in engineering the company’s ongoing turnaround. With his left hand holding a sheaf of papers, and his other hand in a pocket, Mr. Whitacre’s utterance sounded very knee-jerk and superficial—a far cry from what I would have expected from one of corporate America’s most highly accomplished execs. [It was under Mr. Whitacre’s leadership that Southwestern Bell—later renamed ATT—was transformed into an industry titan.]

Granted that Mr. Whitacre had no choice but to read his statement (the press conference had been hastily called), he could have easily made his praise for the outgoing CEO effective and impactful by using his right hand to accentuate the words, rather than have that limb hidden in his right pocket.

Bottom line: All execs are quick to say that “people are our greatest assets.” Well, if that is the case, why not manifest that sentiment? Here are some tips: When praising an employee, (i) be emphatic, (ii) make your sincerity unambiguous and transparent by using appropriate body language, and (iii) use at least a couple of fresh words or phrases to help shed triteness.

Later this week, I will be posting a video clip of the GM Chairman’s shabby performance to help illustrate how not to praise an employee. And you can bet that the clip will become a prized asset in future renditions of my seminar on How to Deliver Effective Praise in Just Three Sentences,” the objective of which is to help managers boost employee morale, loyalty, and productivity.”

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