Working with senior leaders navigating complex relationships & critical biz decisions driving growth & change. Aria Consulting International.
After coaching executives for 24 years, I have watched how the ebb and flow of acknowledgment and appreciation impact the performance of a team. For the leader who is genuine and generous with his or her attention, there is a big potential upside: People will do more for you. Because our desire to be “seen” and acknowledged runs so deep in all of us, our response to the attention and recognition is immediate. Like a plant that is in dire need of water, we perk up and bask in the sunlight.
It is not uncommon for a leader to believe he or she is doing a great job of showing appreciation to employees. And it is also not uncommon for those same employees to report the opposite. This is a result of the need being so great and the efforts of the leader being infrequent and often shallow. A way to really know if your efforts are hitting the mark is to reflect on instances when you felt disrespected. Many people will reflect back to the leader how they feel they are being treated. If they don’t feel that you appreciate them, they will withhold respectful gestures and give minimum effort.
If you feel like you’ve been under-acknowledging or forgetting to appreciate your team members, you are not alone. 2020 sent a lot of people home to work and created major distractions, reducing the hallway and non-meeting interactions where many leaders casually thanked people or discussed accomplishments. The good news is, with a small amount of effort, this is easy to fix.
Here are five ideas for you to consider:
1. Rewrite your 1:1 playbook.
Consider rewriting the playbook for interactions with your team members. Consider a new structure for one-on-one meetings. If you don’t have regular one-on-ones with your direct reports, it’s time to start. If you have a cadence already on the calendar, adjust the agenda to ensure that you start with acknowledging recent efforts and focus in on the change/gain/achievement aspect of results that really matter. This will boost morale and (re)build respect for you as a leader.
2. Give specific kudos more often.
During the workday, in the office or virtual meetings, when you witness a person doing something right, acknowledge it. You can do this with a quick email, text or private note in the virtual chat.
Be sincere and specific instead of using a generic “Good job” or “You rock!” You will get a lot of mileage from a thoughtful explanation. As an example, you could say, “Heather, I really appreciate the way you handled the website copy deadline issue with our team members. I know people were late getting copy to you. Instead of being upset or resentful, you kept your cool and managed the project to an excellent finish. Thank you.”
If your inner skeptic is resisting this idea, remember that most leaders believe they are expressing appreciation more than the team members actually experience. This is worth you pushing past your “comfort zone” on this topic and trying something new.
3. Adopt a positive reinforcement approach.
Establish a goal in 2021 to adopt a new approach: Give out a liberal distribution of positive reinforcement each day. To get the most “bang” for this effort, identify the people who are responsible for the most critical initiatives each quarter. Schedule reminders for yourself to monitor progress and set an intention to show appreciation for important accomplishments such as the overcoming of significant obstacles, adopting new learning(s) that will propel the business forward, overcoming organization resistance, creating new partnerships and other major milestones. The idea is to reinforce efforts and accomplishments along the way, like cheering someone on along the roadside during a marathon versus waiting until they reach the finish line.
4. Give people your undivided attention.
Nothing says “you are important” more than you actually giving your time and full attention. Of course, the converse is also true. Nothing tells someone “you are not important” more than you being distracted, preoccupied or multitasking. Put away the electronic devices, close email and focus on the person in front of you. Listen actively to what others are saying. Remember attention is one of the most basic forms of acknowledgment and appreciation.
5. Increase your interest (for real!).
Make an effort to demonstrate a genuine interest in your employee’s lives. If needed, start with a non-work topic you find interesting so that their response is truly interesting to you. Ask them questions about an upcoming vacation or travel plans, their favorite hobbies, family, pets, where their kids go to school, a gift they received over the holidays, a fitness/exercise program, a recent podcast, an article you read, a new movie, etc. Find out how they are really doing. Ask about the impact of 2020 and all the disruption on their personal and work life. The goal here is not to create an action list for anyone, it is for you to get to know the whole person versus the part of them that shows up to work each day. Most people feel valued when they know their boss and teammates are interested in their life, aspirations and goals.
6. Say “thank you.”
Basic? Maybe. But if that were true, wouldn’t everyone do it? If you accept any of my suggestions, this might be the most impactful. Say “thank you” to everyone who did something to make your life better.
It’s human nature to want appreciation and know that we make a difference. The ideas in this article are designed to help you and your team members feel good and, over time, earn each other’s respect and trust. Put some effort into actively acknowledging the efforts and results put forth by your people and see how your team is transformed.
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