Building a culture of praise in the credit union


Meet Tucker. Tucker is an English Cream Golden Retriever and the latest addition to our household. Tuck is the culmination of a year-long campaign perpetrated by my 13 year-old-son, Robert, who was on a mission to get a big dog.  In the past when he asked, our response was always, “No, we already have a dog.” We have a miniature dachshund named Daphne who if could speak would say “let me in… I have to pee.” Robert was relentless in his pursuit, and we finally gave in last Christmas when he said “Mom, Dad, if I am allowed to have my big dog, could I at least have him by the time I’m 13? That way, I’ll have 5 years with him before I leave for college” (cue the violins). He also showed me a Mark Twain quote that said, “Every boy needs two things: a dog and a mother who will let him have one.” I was proud of his persistence and thrilled that I was able to get me…I mean Robert, his big dog. After a search for the perfect dog, we settled on an English Cream Golden Retriever and found a breeder in our town in North Carolina. English Cream Goldens are basically Golden Retrievers with lighter colored hair, a blockier head, and double the price tag.  After Tucker was born, we had a couple of months to prepare for his arrival. I read up on proper training techniques and had Robert prepare a one week, one month, and three-month plan for caring for and training Tucker. I grew up around the “rub his nose in it, rolled up newspaper mentality”, but everything I read emphasized positive reinforcement and reward vs. punishment. When Tucker arrived, it was like having a new baby in the house. I spent most nights on the couch making sure he went out to pee every two hours, and when he went in the house, I didn’t scold him, but rather took him outside to try again. When he peed outside, I gave him a treat and did a happy dance that mortified my children and made my wife question her vows. I discovered quickly that liver treats and a happy dance are a powerful motivator to influence Tucker’s behavior, so I now carry a pocketful of treats and am ready to reward if the situation calls for it.

If praise vs. punishment can influence positive action in Tucker, then how about in people? I speak to credit unions across the country, and although most people I meet are thrilled with where they work, the biggest struggle that managers seem to have is talent management. How do you build and maintain an engaged workforce? I’m a firm believer that if you want to drive business through your doors, there has to be a smile waiting on the other side, and the best way to ensure that is by building a culture of reward and praise.

Genuine praise has tremendous value for employees: a national survey of over 2,000 people shows that more than two-thirds of the workers said that praise and recognition from their boss was more motivating than money. This Gallup Poll indicated that 80 percent of workers reported that praise and recognition motivated them to do a better job.


  • THANK YOU NOTE. Growing up in Alabama, my mother always made me write a thank you note, because “it makes people feel good about what they’ve done for you.”  Thanking employees with a hand-written note reinforces their value to the credit union as well as giving them a physical reminder that they can revisit. A hand-written note stands out in our digital world.
  • PUBLIC PRAISE. Public recognition not only makes us feel important, but inspires others to elevate their performance.
  • BE SPECIFIC IN YOUR PRAISE. “Good job” is not as effective as “I like the way you communicated with that irate member. You not only solved his problem, but also changed his attitude. You have a real talent for resolving conflict”.
  • SINCERETY. The only thing worse than no praise is insincere praise.
  • UNEXPECTED REWARD. When I waited tables, servers who were complimented by a guest received a “friendly five” from management (actually, after taxes it was a friendly $4.27). Although not a lot of money, it was powerful affirmation for a job well done and it created excitement and enthusiasm among the staff.

Managers who look for unique and clever ways to praise and reward employees with build and maintain a culture of enthusiasm and appreciation. Just don’t give them a liver treat.

Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry is an author and speaker from North Carolina. As a former Nashville songwriter and humorist on the SiriusXM Radio Family Comedy Channels, he delivers funny and entertaining keynote ... Web: Details