It sounds counter intuitive to praise an employee for sucking, but there is some logic behind it.
A study published in the Harvard Business Review suggests employees who receive praise and positive evaluations observe actual improvements in performance—that is to say, tell a worker they rock, even if they don’t, and suddenly they might just start rocking.
The idea that negativity translates into productivity has been floating around the management zeitgeist for a long time. But organizational science experts are increasingly emphasizing the need for more positive workplace environments, even for underperforming employees . . . Beverley Wybrow, the recently retired CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, agrees. “If you come from a negative place, you just create a fear that doesn’t make them more productive.”
Study authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (of the Zenger Folkman leadership development consultancy) examined hundreds of performance evaluations at multinational corporations and found that the direct reports of negative raters were less likely to be engaged or display leadership abilities.
In his book Give and Take, Wharton School professor Adam Grant contends that generous managers earn greater loyalty and efficiency from their underlings.
Severe performance concerns are an exception, of course. It’s about teasing out that little bit of “better” inside each employee. Instead of bringing them down, help them go from good to great (or mediocre to good).