Sunday, February 14, 2016

Workplace fables: The power of praise

Starting today, and as often as I can find them, I'm going to write stories on this blog about lessons people have learned about doing their jobs. Today's lesson -- the power of praise -- comes from Margaret "Peggy" McCausland, an employment attorney from Conshohocken that I met at the Forum for Executive Women's breakfast on Friday.

Workplace fables: The power of praise

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Starting today, and as often as I can find them, I'm going to write stories on this blog about lessons people have learned about doing their jobs. 

Today's lesson -- the power of praise -- comes from Margaret "Peggy" McCausland, an employment attorney from Conshohocken that I met at the Forum for Executive Women's breakfast on Friday.

Her unsolicited praise for an administrative assistant who didn't even work for her led to a long and productive relationship for both of them. 

Before McCausland, founding partner of McCausland and McCausland, was a lawyer, she was a secretary, and thus, a great believer in the power of a good admin to make life and work run smoothly.

When McCausland became a young associate at a large law firm, she was assigned an administrative assistant. The problem, McCausland said, was that her administrative assistant wasn't good at her job. Unfortunately, McCausland gave her a less than glowing review. In turn, McCausland earned a less than glowing review from the network of secretaries in the firm. They referred to her as the.... , well, it's not necessary to spell it out, but McCausland learned her not-nice-nickname in an overheard conversation in the ladies' room. No one wanted to work for her. The position stayed open for months while McCausland was assigned a series of temps.

One day, a secretary with chutzpah managed to bump into McCausland when she was alone in the law firm's kitchen. The secretary asked why McCausland hated secretaries. McCausland explained that she didn't hate secretaries. After all, she had been one. Giving an inaccurate review, she said, didn't help anyone. After their kitchen encounter, the secretary took a chance on McCausland and bid for the open job. The relationship lasted for years, with many good performance reviews on both sides, until the secretary was lured away by a former boss willing to pay more. 

McCausland's next secretary was a good solid performer, but the person who really impressed McCausland was the administrative assistant who sat next to her assistant. The woman was cheerful, pro-active, a real team player. McCausland noticed. When it was time for reviews, McCausland not only gave her assistant a good review, but sent an unsolicited word of praise about the neighboring administrative assistant.

Later, for personal reasons, McCausland's secretary left. The other administrative assistant, who had learned about McCausland's praise, came to work for her. The relationship, which morphed into friendship, lasted for 13 years through two different law firms. The only reason she's not working for McCausland now is McCausland didn't want to ask her to leave a big law firm with good benefits to join McCausland's small two-lawyer practice.

The moral of the story? It pays to praise.      

Inquirer Staff Writer
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About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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