How Not To Talk to Your Kids (Employees)

I often find that many of the principles and approaches I use with my kids, work well in managing deals (I can go into more detail on a later post). A recent post from Whitney Tilson highlighted yet another area where this plays out…the fine art of complimenting/motivating employees. I would hazard a guess that the lessons below apply both at work and at home. In the article, researchers lay out recent findings that praise for effort versus praise for skill or intelligence produces dramatically more positive results.  Whitney is referring to a recent article by Po Bronson, NY Magazine,  "How Not to Talk to Your Kids"


I know I send out a ton of emails and I suspect very few of you read them all, so every month or two, when I come across an article that is a must-read, I pull out my STOP THE PRESSES!

This article has rocked my world because the findings it outlines — for example, that while praising children is good, the key is to focus on praising EFFORT, not intelligence — have hugely powerful implications for educating children and are completely contrary to conventional wisdom.

I found these results to be particularly amazing: a mere 50-minute class with one powerful message could have such an impact?!

Click here for the "How Not to Talk to Your Kids article"

5 thoughts on “How Not To Talk to Your Kids (Employees)

  1. First off, I am an avid reader of your blog. Thanks for posting articles/ideas that are continually interesting and worth the time to read.

    Now for the comment… You mention that using the praise techniques described in this article may also work well on employees. I agree, but it might take a while to change people’s mindset from praising for effort vs. praising for performance. Parents blanket praise their children thinking they will help their self-esteem. Bosses typically praise employees for getting the job done, whether the effort required was little or great.

  2. Good point. One of the harder topics for an investor on a board is how to handle things when goals are missed. The reality is that Companies put their plans out there at the beginning of each year, but by February, you begin to see areas of the plan starting to fall behind. Some investors pull out the cattle prod and carrot, up the voltage and jolt the team. Others try to figure out what caused the slippage and act accordingly. In the latter case, the team may have executed appropriately, but the market wasn’t ready.

    I still believe that you should acknowledge and celebrate wins, but also realize that sometimes, success (and failure) happen regardless of the effort. If a team really worked hard but came up short (or succeeded because of amazing effort), it certainly helps to acknowledge the effort and encourage more of it.

  3. Thanks for the reply. What techniques do you use when talking with teams that missed goals (either due to lack of effort, or just other factors)?

  4. Interesting read but the keys to motivating efforts should still reside in proper goal setting (such as the ubiquitous “SMART” goals) and feedback analysis of both wins and losses. Taking a oversimplified view of “loss = bad = not hard effort” is a sign of poor management and shouldn’t occur; you shouldn’t have to “stop the presses” for that. On top of that, I’m just a little weirded out by all the pictures of Thomas.

  5. High voltage cattle prod…just kidding.

    Usually the most productive approach is to first assess and manage the downside. Given the miss, determine what this does to runway, sufficiency of funding and such. If you still have adequate runway (say 12 months), then you move to cause and effect. If the miss causes runway to shrink to the danger zone (4-5 months), then you need to work with the team to cut burn, raise capital, etc.

    Once you have the draconian risks addressed, you should sit down and figure out why they missed (wrong strategy, product issues, personnel issues, etc) and put a game plan in place. If this is a first time for the big miss, you can give them leeway and make certain that issues have been addressed and a credible future plan is in place. If you have a situation with recurring “non-recurring” issues, then you have a bigger issue and the CEO is likely the issue. If it is a team that consistently misses, then it is the team leader.

    Be understanding of issues, acknowledge effort but take action if or when needed. I don’t think berating the team or making things personal ever works in these situations. Let everyone know the larger constraints, be clear on expectations and lay out consequences/rewards. These can then speak for themselves. Lectures and emotions just distract and add noise.

Comments are closed.