The Right and Wrong Way to Praise Your Crew

In the midst of your busy season, remember to show sincere appreciation for front-line workers who keep the trucks moving and the vacuum pumps running.

Your crew has been facing wall-to-wall service runs — with a few emergency calls thrown in just to keep the pumping business interesting. In fact, there may be days when darkness will greet you at the beginning and the end of the workday. Overtime will be the rule rather than the exception for your drivers and technicians.

You have a lot to remember during times like these. Invoices need to go out; trucks need to be washed and maintained; and you have to keep the staff performing at a high level. That means ensuring quality service for the customers and motivating everyone to keep plugging away, even as they may reach a point of fatigue.

For the boss, part of that job is recognizing when an employee goes above and beyond for your company. And the same goes for your lead driver or team leaders working with a new guy or gal. It’s important to support each other through busy times to keep everyone happy and pulling in the same direction.


Successful employee recognition efforts require genuine appreciation for your hardworking team. You have to mean what you say when it comes to singling out or heaping praise on your workers. From time to time, we all need to hear some positive words about our work, but how that praise is delivered is just as important as understanding that we need to deliver it.

So says Ron Carucci, co-founder of the leadership consulting firm Navalent, who shared advice about best employee recognition practices in the Harvard Business Review. Recently I read his column titled “What Not to Do When You’re Trying to Motivate Your Team” and felt it would be timely to share a little of his advice with the Pumper community.

Carucci says the majority of employees he talks to in seminars say their bosses are obviously not sincere when they try to hand out praise.

“When leaders look like they are just applying some ‘motivational technique’ they read about, people see right through the superficial, obligatory effort,” Carucci writes. “It looks like they are checking off the ‘I motivated someone today’ box.”

Carucci cites at 10-year study of more than 200,000 workers that shows 79% who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason. And Carucci says a Gallup State of the American Workplace report shows that only 21% of workers felt they were motivated to do outstanding work. That leaves a lot of room for improvement for bosses everywhere.


Three aspects of employee recognition fall especially short, according to Carucci.

The first he refers to as drive-by praise. That is just a quick attaboy delivered when passing by in the shop or through a brief text that can feel rushed or inadequate. The second is making stuff up. That’s when the boss goes overboard with praise and it’s obviously insincere. And the third is guilt gratitude. That’s when the boss overcompensates after making a mistake or neglecting something that requires the worker to fix the situation.

In all three cases, Carucci asserts the employee recognition actually serves the boss rather than the person on the receiving end. He suggests three ways to praise that avoid these pitfalls:

Ask for the story. Rather than simply a passing compliment, ask the driver, for example, to share the details of how he handled the pumpout of a septic tank that hadn’t been opened in 30 years. Listen and learn from the details, and acknowledge how he or she went above and beyond to satisfy the customer by handling the tough job. Recognize the specific problem-solving involved, and this will encourage others to step up and meet the next challenge.

Contextualize gratitude. Explain how a technician’s great performance helps the company turn a profit and build a great reputation for septic service in your territory. Carucci cited a survey showing that only 47% of front-line workers make a connection between their daily performance and the success of the company. So when your helper drags 200 feet of hose from the truck to the tank to protect a customer’s driveway or landscaping, he or she will understand how that benefits you and the company. When you make the connection between good work and profitability, workers will understand how they can make a meaningful difference on every job.

Acknowledge the cost. Make it known that you understand the sacrifices good workers make for the company. Your drivers sit in classrooms to gain wastewater certifications. The drivers perform early morning pretrip inspections and wash their rigs at the end of the day or the end of the week. They sometimes get home too late for dinner with the family because a pumping job took more time than expected, or they miss a family activity on a weekend because they’re servicing restrooms at a special event. When you recognize their efforts, be sure they know you appreciate their sacrifices.


The main takeaway from Carucci that we should always remember is to reward good work with praise and be honest and genuine in our communication with everyone. As the workdays grow longer and the stress mounts to meet all of your customer obligations, it’s easy to take the team for granted. But as pumpers often remind me, your people are your reputation — and it’s important to remember that the folks on the front lines are your biggest asset.

So recall Carucci’s words as you try to meet all the demands of the busy season:

“It’s a leader’s job to create a recognition-rich environment in which those they lead choose to give their best,” Carucci concludes. “That starts by ensuring recognition genuinely serves the needs of those you’re offering it to, not your own.”  


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