One of my favorite experiential activities for management training is an oldie but goodie called the “Boo/Yay” exercise. In it, two volunteers separately try to guess a per-determined task such as walking to the front of the room and picking up a marker. The audience is instructed to give the volunteers feedback to help them decide if they are moving closer to the task— they are to yell a disapproving “Boo!” to volunteer A and an encouraging “Yay! to volunteer B.
The feedback varies in one other way as well. For volunteer A, the audience “boos” when the person moves away from achieving the task. When moving in the direction of the correct task, the group will remain silent. Therefore, the message is:
Boo = doing it wrong, need to change course
Silence = doing it right, keep going
For volunteer B, the audience cheers “Yay!” when the person’s moving in the right direction and say nothing when moving in the wrong direction. Volunteer B’s message is:
Yay = doing it right, keep going
Silence = doing it wrong, need to change course.
When we debrief the activity we ask the volunteers for their reactions: How did it feel to be “Booed?” How did it feel to be “Yay-ed?” The volunteer who was booed typically says he/she felt demoralized after awhile and tended to hesitate, not wanting to continue to make “mistakes”. The volunteer who was yay-ed says he/she appreciated the support from the yays. The silence wasn’t too troubling, because it gave her some space to think and figure out how to proceed next.
This activity sets up a rich discussion for the pros and cons of providing encouragement or criticism. We explore the roles of a manager— to coach, provide feedback and in some cases discipline. All of these managerial tasks are vital to developing employees’ skills to the fullest, yet the way in which they’re employed will determine the manager’s effectiveness. I encourage managers to reflect upon this question: when you interact with your employees, do they feel “Booed” or “Yay-ed”?
The act of encouraging employees to bring out their best is a nuanced one. Some employees will view too much “Yay-ing” as insincere cheerleading. Others have a very high need for feedback and encouragement. The type and amount of encouragement needed may also be driven by generational issues. Much is being written about Millenial employees’ need to get constant feedback due to their hi-tech, hi-touch upbringing.
In the end, it comes down to paying close attention to the varying needs of each individual employee. Pay attention to if your praise was well-received. If not, consider how you might alter it next time— praise in private rather than public? More low-key rather than effusive? Written versus spoken praise?
However you employ your encouragement, continually return to this touchstone: are you a Boo or a Yay manager?