Delayed Praise, Reprimand of Employees to the Detriment of Productivity

Feb 20 , 2021
By Asegid Getachew

As many managers in Ethiopia’s growing private sector must have found out by now, managing is the art of getting things done with and through others. More than anything else, managers require the basic skill to interact with and coordinate their employees' effort. The best result always comes from employees who are motivated and committed to the successful achievement of organisational goals. This, however, is easier said than done.

How can managers enhance the organisation's productivity while still making employees feel good about themselves and their contribution?

Kenneth Blanchard and Spenser Johnson wrote a famous book about this that has gone on to be credited with establishing the practical skills needed for effective management in the modern firm. Titled “The One Minute Manager,” it was published in 1982 and sold more than 35 million copies.

The theme of the 112-page book focuses on three pillars of managerial practice that could come in handy in Ethiopia, where time tested and accepted managerial principles are required to enhance workplace culture and productivity. These pillars are the one-minute goal setting; the one-minute praising; and the one-minute reprimand. “One Minute” is metaphorically used by the authors to refer to doing the three tasks in the shortest time possible.

The first thing that every employee should do is to set a one-minute goal that matches their behaviour and agree on these goals with their managers, according to the book. Then, especially when workers are new and inexperienced, managers should take time to “catch them [doing] something right” and immediately tell them how they feel about their achievement. They advise giving them one-minute praise and encourage them to do more of the same in the future.

Once the workers become seasoned, managers should be around only to give them their “one minute reprimand” when they stray from the established goals. The reprimand should be very impersonal and push back only on the behaviour that led to the deviation.

If it takes these simple steps to be effective, then can all organisations be productive and successful by applying them?

We do not see this happening, because managers sometimes do the reverse. Managers, for instance, may have the habit of catching their employees doing something right, but they may prolong and delay the praise. Such managers have an imaginary “mental box” where they store the "good" things they observe. When a particular incident comes then this box will shatter open, and praises start to pour out. Such incidents may occur at a time of transfer of employees or during the evaluation of their periodic performance.

In worst cases, when the employee leaves or is deceased, there is the standard obituary readout to celebrate their good behaviour. The managers talk about how patient, deferential, quick on their feet or flexible they were. Unfortunately, they say this posthumously, after it is too late to make a difference in the employee’s level of productivity.

Similarly, some managers are what the authors call “gunny sack” discipliners. Such managers disregard the wrongdoings they observe only to use it in conflict with their employees or during performance evaluation. This is true of many offices in Ethiopia, which create a negative relationship down the hierarchy and makes the team less cohesive.

Managers should understand that prolonging and delaying praise and reprimand plays to the organisation's detriment in at least two ways. On the one hand, if employees do not recognise the good things they have done at the time they did it, they will lose the necessary reinforcement and motivation to keep up the momentum. In the same token, when reprimand fails to immediately follow the behaviour that deviates from the established goals, employees will not get the chance to redirect their energies in the required direction.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 20,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1086]

 is an assistant professor and research scholar at Andhra University. He can be reached at

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