Engineering Praise to Create the Happy Habit Environment

by Tom Ohling

The food service industry spends thousands of hours and millions of dollars on interior design, work space engineering, table top architecture, attractive landscaping. These efforts are directed at creating an environment that enhances sales and builds bottom lines. The science of environmental engineering is a huge growth industry as the importance to every physical detail becomes more apparent. A less exact science addresses the question of how to engineer the social environment? Let’s take a look.

A “Welcome to Taco Bell” before every order, the cordial welcomes provided by those opening the doors upon arrival at Applebees, the oft repeated “remember to smile” are all examples of techniques used to create the positive milieu. But how do we permeate the air with our positivism? How do we infect our management, servers, cooks and entire staff with what I call the Happy Habit?

Revisiting some basic definitions will help us along the path to understanding what is needed to engineer the environment. With Webster’s by my side the two key terms are defined for our purposes thusly- Engineer: calculated manipulation or direction (as of behavior) to contrive or plan out usually with more or less subtle skill and craft, Environment: 1. the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded 2. the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual or community.

Successful environmental engineering is then the subtle calculated manipulation of the aggregate of social conditions that influence the life of our community; our employees and our customers. Creating that positive “Happy Habit” environment that we all so desire can be accomplished by the calculated use of praise.

Praise, a favorable expression of approval, is probably the most powerful single tool at management’s disposal for influencing surroundings and attitudes. For effective use I refer to the three principles “P’s” of praise: pointedly, punctually and publicly.

Praising pointedly means that we are specific. “Good job” is too ambiguous and often misses the opportunity to train others by letting them know the particulars of a “good job”. “That plate looks beautiful”, “Great job in handling that complaint”, “Congratulations on your up-selling tonight” are all commendations that make the person receiving them feel good and reinforce a very specific trait.

Praising punctually is one of the most overlooked aspects of effective positivism. When something is done right, that is the exact moment to say so, don’t wait. The sooner you praise the more powerful. The act of letting others know when they are working well is a great mood elevator. When we are focusing on successes tension is lessened and smiles naturally occur.

Praising publicly is the way in which our thank-yours have the broadest impact. By making sure that we are constantly reinforcing that which is going well in our business we are continually training all of our staff on how we want it done. Praise begets praise and you will find that the habit of commending others for work well done is quickly picked-up by others. The praising environment impacts everyone, customers and employees alike.

Praise opens lines of communication, encourages teamwork, and focuses everyone on the positive. The old song goes, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive and de-centuate the negative.” Nothing could be more true. Praise is the Happy Habit that engineers our environment for success.


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