If you work with people who are in career transition, as I often do, you end up hearing a lot of interesting stuff about what goes on inside companies. There are many reasons why a person might decide to leave one job to pursue another. Often there are grievances involved. But far and away the commonest reason I hear for people quitting their jobs – is a lack of recognition and acknowledgment for work they have done.
Time and again I hear things like: “It would have been nice to have gotten a pat on the back once in a while. You know, it was the kind of place where you rarely heard the word thanks. I never knew if my contribution mattered. The only time I ever heard from my boss was if I did something wrong.”
As children, we demand to be noticed: “Look at the brilliant sandcastle I built! Watch me ride my bike off the roof of the garage!” As adults, we are (hopefully) focused on different things, but the need to be recognized for our efforts does not diminish over time. People want to know that their contribution counts for something. We long to know that the mountain of hours and years of service devoted to some cause or company does not go unnoticed by someone. But far too often it does. And what happens then? Petty resentments build. Morale wanes. And good performers leave in search of greater fulfillment and appreciation elsewhere.
If you’re a manager or leader of any sort, you know who your saints are: those quiet, diligent, unshowy performers who are with you through thick and thin. This is the kind of person you want to have in the raft beside you when the ship is going down. And it’s easy to take these people for granted. Maybe we’re too busy, or too tired. We get distracted. We have a demanding new client who is sucking the energy from us. But these people are your life preservers, and it behooves you to acknowledge them. If you’re going to give recognition, here are some important things to keep in mind.
People like to know where they stand, so tell them, as often as you can. Dr. Colleen Hacker, sports psychologist to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, is a big believer in giving honest performance-contingent comments to her team directly after each game and training session. She rewards effort as much as outcome and uses a technique she likes to call “the feedback sandwich”. Here’s how it works:
1. Find something the player did well and then praise it.
2. Next, tell the athlete what they did incorrectly, and how they can improve on it next time.
3. Finish with a positive, encouraging or motivational statement.
One piece of negative sandwiched between two positively reinforcing statements. Her impressive results speak for themselves. Be Thoughtful It’s interesting how many of the managers I know will spend literally hours preparing to give criticism to subordinates, but only a matter of minutes preparing to give praise for what was done right. Thoughtful praise should get the exact same consideration as negative criticism. Nobody wants insincere flattery, but a genuine appreciation of the effort put forth can go a long way toward boosting morale and improving overall performance. Find a way of noticing some particular detail that lets people know they are seen. E.G. “When I showed our new client the research you had compiled, they were really impressed. They want a follow-up proposal for a further piece of business. That’s a really good outcome for us, so thank you and well done!” Celebrate Small Wins As any parent will tell you, celebrating the small gains is an important part of building confidence and reinforcing positive behavior. I’m not talking about being cheered just for turning up to work in the morning. But taking the time to celebrate small victories as they occur – a new client is landed, a report goes out on time, a killer presentation – is vitally important. And a series of small victories often becomes a big victory. Ask any winning team – sports or otherwise – and they will tell you that success breeds more success. Once people get a taste for winning, it makes them hungry for more. So take the time to celebrate the small wins, as much as the big ones.
Attitude of Gratitude If your business is about people (and what business isn’t?), then you need to pay very close attention to who is doing the actual work in your company. Even saints don’t like being ignored! You can say it with a smile, a kind word, or the ultimate – a handwritten note. It says: You count. I see your effort. Yes, it matters. Although they may not show it, you never know how much someone may be needing this. Even if you’re not getting it for yourself, the unselfish act of giving praise freely and often can be immensely liberating. Because every good word or deed is a catalyst for another. The person who makes your coffee in the morning; the person who manages the landscaping around your building; the person cleaning your office after you’ve left: these people are your saints. Praise them and you will get it back tenfold. That’s the beauty of appreciation. And you can begin right now.