February 24, 2006 spout

PM Skill #8: Give Credit Freely

Engineers are people, too, and appreciate pats on the back as much as anyone. In fact, many of us are so socially needy that we’re willing to trade attaboys” for money (and hence the fuel that drives the OSS community).

The beauty: praise is cheap. Blocks of plastic, plaques, bowling night morale events, etc, all cost money and can be the cause of derision as often as pride. On the other hand, sincere praise freely given doesn’t cost a thing, but it’s often much more appreciated.

So why doesn’t praise happen more often? I think one reason is because we’re engineers, so we’re trained to focus on where our work falls short, often completely ignoring when it lives up to expectations. Also, sadly, it’s not uncommon for folks to want to take credit for themselves . However, as PMs, we have to remember that just because we give the presentation or write the status email doesn’t mean that we did the work. We need to be explicit about giving credit.

So, the next time you’re giving a talk, don’t say And this feature does …” say This feature, which Pete implemented, does this…” When you’re writing that status email, don’t say We implemented feature XXX this week…,” say Carol and Joe implemented feature XXX this week…” As soon as you do this, Pete, Carol and Joe know that you appreciate their work and that whoever you’re communicating with knows that they did good things. Appreciated team members are happy team members.

So, does that mean you should praise things you don’t necessarily appreciate, just to keep your team motivated? Absolutely not. As soon as the praise sounds empty, you’ve done more harm than saying nothing at all. Definitely look for opportunities to give credit, but don’t make stuff up that you don’t believe.

But what do you do to get praise for your own work if you’re busy doing all of this praising of your team mates? Nothing. Praise from yourself is called bragging” and it makes you look stupid (I know this because I struggle w/ this constantly). Give your praise freely and let others do the same. If you’re effective, people will say good things and that’ll be enough.