Praise in Public

I have always been uncomfortable receiving public praise for something I’ve done, even though I really like to hear it.  I think my ambivalence has been one of my weaknesses as a city manager because it may make me more reticent about praising people than I need to be.   I have learned, however, that there are many people who share my discomfort over public recognition.

A few years ago, I attended a national conference with an Albany employee, and I think I actually made him mad by saying nice things about him at a dinner.  He came up to me afterwards and let me know that while he appreciated the thought, he would have appreciated it more if I had kept it to myself.  The incident made me realize that we all have different sensitivities that cause us to respond to rewards and penalties in different ways.

Early in my career, someone taught me the principle of “praise in public, criticize in private,” and I still believe the general idea is a good one.  I have never met anyone who has told me they like being publicly humiliated, although I know people who seem to invite public criticism. 

I have used this column over the years to occasionally recognize people for outstanding work or setting a great example for the rest of us, and I think most have expressed appreciation when I’ve done so.  Writing to a deadline sometimes makes it difficult to check with the subject of my praise before it gets published, so all of this is prelude to a strong impulse to recognize some people (without their permission) who have done great work recently.

Ron Irish has been such a consistently positive influence over the years I’ve worked here that it’s hard to point to a single event, but his recent contribution to resolving a difficult situation with another agency is just the latest example of how his patient and thoughtful approach to problem solving has earned widespread respect.

During my first few years with the City, I was a little afraid to try and remember the names of the people in Utility Billing.  We had so much turnover in these difficult jobs that it seemed like every time I got to know someone they would leave.  Our current employees (Patty, Nancy, Shelley, Danya, Lori, Ami, Julie, Duane, and Holly) have changed the pattern with their good work and strong customer relations skills.  Shutting off someone’s water is almost guaranteed to make them mad, but I routinely hear about the courtesy and extra effort of our people who do this work.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone by writing a few words of praise for good work I have observed.  There are many more city employees deserving of recognition, and I plan to write about them in the future.  If you prefer to stay off the list, let me know.