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I currently have the enviable position of a manager who is quick to praise for work done at or above expectations: however as my boss lacks the knowledge to determine how difficult a task is I often get praised more for easier / more mundane tasks than the more challenging ones.

There are two implications of this that I am unsure how to manage:

  1. I'm finding myself drawn more to simplistic tasks which I would usually find boring as they generate more goodwill with my manager than the challenging tasks.
  2. My team are also treated the same way, and know that some of us are getting disproportionately praised for simpler tasks than what the rest of us are working on.

I am unsure of how to go about communicating that I feel the praise is wrongly assigned: I don't want to look ungrateful, but am a little wary of my long-term motivation if the work I know is more challenging is not appreciated comparably.

  • 2
    Is this a duplicate? It seems some of your team do this better than others.. – enderland Oct 18 '13 at 15:38
  • @enderland - the problem isn't about overall visibility, as we all get the same praise for the same tasks - it is more about education – Dibstar Oct 18 '13 at 15:46
  • That's entirely my point. Some people have jobs which naturally show their value to your company and/or receive praise. Some projects don't or tasks don't do this. Expecting your manager to sort through "how should I assign value to these tasks" is really hard and is the entire point of this answer. – enderland Oct 18 '13 at 15:56
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    It took me a few years to catch onto the game, but the reality is that IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW HARD/IMPORTANT A SPECIFIC TASK IS in order to get the recognition needed to advance. What is important is that you do the tasks that your manager believes are hard/important to their satisfaction. You can tell your manager that their opinion is wrong, but it could be that your opinion is wrong. After all, these determinations is well...just an opinion. Office politics sucks, but at least learning what is important to your boss and making sure you do those tasks well is a benign form of politics. – Dunk Oct 18 '13 at 17:47
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I am unsure of how to go about communicating that I feel the praise is wrongly assigned

As with most misunderstandings, the solution is to talk with the parties involved.

Find a quiet time to chat with your manager individually. Thank her/him for the praise, explain how his/her praise really helps to motivate you.

Then point out cases where you were praised for mundane tasks, but not for challenging tasks. Help her/him see and understand the difference between the two, and how that makes you feel a bit conflicted.

This is your chance to educate your boss. Use it!

And conclude your discussion with another "thank you" for the praise and support, while ensuring him/her that you will continue to work hard to earn more praise.

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In addition to the other answers, lead by example. Either by email or at a team meeting, make a point of praising a teammate for something that was hard/a lot of work, etc. Even though you aren't the manager, it shows your manager that your teammate's task was worthy of more notice.

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In terms of action Joe Strazzere has said all the right things. But let me put it a glightly different way.

The usefulness of a task isn't correlated with how difficult it is. If the simple tasks you have been doing are valuable to the company, perhaps disproportionately so, then your manager is right to praise you for them. Of itself it doesn't mean he lacks knowledge. He may be deliberately praising you for easy but valuable tasks, because he knows you find them boring and you might otherwise neglect them. I've both given and received praise for simple tasks, precisely because they are more valuable than the amount of effort would indicate.

This doesn't change the action. Talk to your boss and tell him that the tasks he is singling out are easier than some others, and ask him if this was intentional. Explain that it is causing people to focus on easier tasks, and again ask him if that was intentional.

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however as my boss lacks the knowledge to determine how difficult a task is I often get praised more for easier / more mundane tasks than the more challenging ones.

Reality check: this is most managers and bosses - especially further up the chain. Unless they are micromanaging, they will have a much harder time appropriately rewarding "hard/important yet not flashy" vs "easy/trivial but flashy" tasks.

I don't want to look ungrateful, but am a little wary of my long-term motivation if the work I know is more challenging is not appreciated comparably.

You need to read this answer. You have discovered that yes, your actual value-add work is a fraction of your bosses perception of you actually is.

My current project is a software dev project for non-technical people, exactly the type of manager you describe. I can spend 5 min making buttons on an interface do something which is AWESOME! and then spend 40 hours making the backend work or making code robust, which is boring.

You have to do two things.

  1. Communicate it in a way your audience understands. You have to translate boring-yet-important work into something which can be understood. I've taken to using analogies. My current one is comparing building software dev to building a house. Plumbing/electrical work is super important for a house but totally boring/not flashy. Spending several days working on database design can be explained as similar to installing plumbing. This helps communicate the "oh, this boring not flashy thing is important" in a way which people understand. A beautiful home without working plumbing is a problem.
  2. Actually communicate what you are doing. No, really. You have to communicate what you are doing even more when doing non-flashy things. In your 1/1, have a list of what you have worked on, the importance of them, and an analogy. Your manager is going to have such a deeper appreciation for what you work on if you do this that your entire question may become meaningless.

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