Perception and Challenge of Communicating Appreciation

Sufficiently recognizing and appreciating the efforts of employees poses challenges at all levels of the organizational chart. Everyone from vice presidents to fry cooks say that they hear about every small mistake they make, but only rarely are told when they have done a good job.

This is due, in large part, to distortions of perception. We human beings are acutely aware when our efforts go unrecognized—I worked all weekend on that report and she couldn’t even manage a lousy ‘thank you’!  But we are almost unable to realize when the labor of others goes similarly unacknowledged.

Many times we will not know that a subordinate worked all weekend preparing the report. But even if we do, it simply will not mean as much to us as if it had been our own free time spent on company business.

Our own labors are always more real to us than those of our employees. And because of it, we will rarely give as much recognition as we would expect and hope to receive for the same amount of work.

In short, we will, time and again, give to others less than we would want to receive.

Further complicating the issue is that while recognition is a primary source of motivation, its lack is rarely a source of significant complaint or grievance.

Employees will not typically agitate or protest when they feel their efforts are going underappreciated. As a result, there might be few overt symptoms for a leader to “fix”.

But while a lack of recognition and appreciation may not cripple a workplace, it will steadily eat away at morale and blunt enthusiasm. It will not sink the ship but it will prevent the sails from becoming fully filled.

To effectively express gratitude, then, leaders must take into account and work to understand the perceptions of employees. They must strive to ascertain how employees view the recognition they are giving.

But most important of all, they must take the time to get to know the people they supervise. Just as generic gifts are never as meaningful as those that reflect a person’s individual likes and dislikes, generic recognition will never be as effective as appreciation that springs from a leader’s ongoing association with the person being recognized.

Recognition, then, can best be understood not as a tool leaders employ, but an expression of the quality of relationships they hold with others.

Leave a reply

Appreciation: The Heart of Recognition

When it comes to the role of recognition in the workplace, the knowledge base is clear: we human beings want to be appreciated and valued in the work we do.

Recognition, though, is only as good as the spirit that animates it. As a fundamentally above-the-line behavior, recognition can be disingenuous as easily as it can be sincere, perfunctory as easily as heartfelt.

It must therefore be rooted in below-the-line qualities of spirit such as gratitude and appreciation if it is to be meaningful to employees.

Leaders who wish to more effectively recognize employees, then, must begin by taking a candid look at the fundamental beliefs and values shaping their own behavior.

Do I have a sincere and personal appreciation for the contribution of employees? Do I genuinely feel gratitude for the work they do? Do I have a truly appreciative heart?

The answers to these questions will go a long way in determining how effective your efforts at recognition will be.

Appreciation is not only critical to effective leadership, it is far more so than many leaders realize. In our consulting work we have gone so far as to tell leaders that if they do not sincerely appreciate their employees, they should get out of the business of leadership altogether.

We say this not to be harsh or condemnatory, but simply because  recognition is far too important to be marginalized or trivialized. 

This importance stems in large part from the fact that, to the recipient, recognition is invariably personal. Plans and projects might be what people end up talking about but we are the ones doing a good job. We are the ones contributing to a program. We are the ones being thanked and valued.

Recognition is therefore an issue fundamentally concerned with people, not tasks. It is an acknowledgment of contributions made, but in a deeper sense it is an acknowledgment of the value and worth of an individual him- or herself.

And much as we all want to be recognized for what we do, we want even more we want to be appreciated for who we are.

This is true of our employees, our friends, our coworkers, our family, and ourselves. It is a universal human desire. And because it is such a personal issue, no one will be satisfied with a supervisor who does not value their efforts and recognize their contributions.

Leave a reply

Recognition, Thanks, and Motivation

The link between recognition and motivation in the workplace are clear. We need only look to our own experience — the pride we felt when our work was praised by an appreciative supervisor, the improvement in our outlook when we were sincerely thanked for the grunt work we do month in and month out — to understand how the one leads to the other.

But in spite of the fact that it stands a free, immediately implementable, and constantly available source of employee motivation, recognition is sadly lacking in the workplace.

The toll of such oversight is heavy, in both organizational and human terms. One of the executives of a steel corporation in eastern Pennsylvania, for example, one told us that when he was first hired as the foreman of one of the foundries, he was receiving performance reviews on all employees on a regular basis.

He noticed one day that a certain long-time employee had been doing particularly good work the past several weeks. Wanting to encourage such performance, he called the man over the next time he saw him, and said he had noticed his efforts and wanted to thank him for everything he was doing for the organization.

In recounting the story to us later, the executive noted that the worker stood well over six feet tall and weighed upwards of 250 pounds, with not an ounce of fat on him. He was a hard man through and through, and not someone looking for charity from anyone.

But as he stood in the heat of the foundry floor that day, tears began to stream down his face. “I’m sorry,” he said with obvious embarrassment. “It’s just that I’ve worked here for seventeen years, and this is the first time anyone has ever thanked me for something I’ve done.”

That the contributions of countless human beings, from foundry workers and waitresses to managers and vice-presidents, go unrecognized and unthanked for weeks or even years at a time is simply a reality of the world today. It may seem morally acceptable to you, or it may not. But feelings of propriety aside, wholesale disregard of the dynamics of effective human interaction has tangible, bottom line consequences on organizational performance.

All across the nation, workers do their jobs in the absence of any meaningful sense of gratitude from their organization, and many do them well. But the potential they might otherwise be able achieve is squandered day after day after day. For people will never give their all for an organization that takes their efforts for granted.

This might be good enough for some leaders. They  might believe that nothing more is possible, or simply be content with employees who will, most of the time, do what they are told.  But mere compliance will never suffice as a foundation for true excellence. Distinction will never be built on a workforce simply clocking in, clocking out, and collecting their paychecks.

Leave a reply

Workplace Vision in Action: One Example

Employees can bring many things to the office, but workplace vision is not one of them. Vision is an element of organizational culture, and culture derives most directly from the actions and choices of leaders at all levels.

But what does it mean for a leader to instill vision in to a workplace? What does this look like in practice?

You may remember the plant manager, described in a previous post, who so eloquently linked the requirements of a new manufacturing process to the real, human impact it would have on the lives of the company’s clients.

Two years before that episode, that manager had only recently been hired, and was working to drive the new process into the plant through the rigid application of top-down authority.

Offering no real ownership of the process to employees, he faced (or more accurately, created for himself) numerous challenges.

His top-level managers voiced support only because it was politically expedient to do so. His shop workers used his “fancy” system only resentfully and avoided it in whatever ways possible.

And though a few realized the potential inherent in the new process, most awaited the day that the new manager would go away and the plant would return to “normal.”

The story could have ended in disaster, but happily did not. As time wore on the manager began honestly considering his employees’ views of himself, the effects (both intended and otherwise) of his leadership style, and his hopes and desires for the plant.

Reassessing the foundations of his approach to leadership, he began articulating in more understandable and accessible terms the passion for the work that he had had all along.

In doing so, he instilled a far deeper sense of purpose and meaning in the process he was trying to introduce. He created a vibrant vision of the future for his employees to embrace. And as he more clearly communicated and more consiously modeled this vision, he gradually won the commitment of employees from frontline staff to senior management.

Vision can be a crucial catalyst of organizational change, but it always begins at the top. Moreover, it often, perhaps always, demands the kind personal introspection — challenging and sometimes difficult — that this leader was willing to undertake.

What is my below-the-line understanding of vision and the role it plays in the workplace? How is that understanding manifested in my day-to-day choices? How do others perceive the choices I am making?

Vigilant reflection on questions such as these is key to helping your organization become more committed, enthusiastic, and vision-driven.

Leave a reply

Job Description vs. Vision

Why do people work? Or, put differently, towards what do people work?

Most employees, if asked about their job, will describe the tasks they perform. “I keep the president’s calendar and make her travel arrangements,” they might say, or “I oversee maintenance and repair of the company’s network servers.”

If you press further, asking what they are trying to achieve by those tasks, many will hesitate or stumble, not because they don’t want to explain, but because they have little sense of their work being connected to any larger goals.

Moreover, a distressing number will suggest that their primary concern is simply getting from one day to the next — “I’m trying to stay out of trouble, that’s what I’m trying to achieve.”

Issues of meaning and motivation can be complex in the workplace. One feature, though, is clear. In the absence of a compelling vision of the future, organizational functioning tends to become highly dependent on, and defined by, formal job descriptions.

Within such environments –ultimately created or allowed by leaders  — people perform tasks not to accomplish goals or aims, but simply to discharge the responsibilities of their position.

Under the influence of a workplace culture like this, the office manager orders supplies not to assist in providing better service to clients, but because that’s what the office manager does. The department head holds weekly meetings not to inspire or direct the team she oversees, but because that’s what a department head does.

Job descriptions are, of course, useful and necessary tools. Their utility, however, should not obscure the fact that over-reliance on them tends to inhibit awareness of, and ownership in, the wider goals they are meant to further.

Unless job descriptions are supported by a clear, compelling, and emotionally-resonant vision of the future, organizations will struggle to reach their full potential, despite even furious levels of activity.

It is important to also note that an industry’s arena of functioning does not, in itself, provide any reliable sense vision. Healthcare facilities and social service agencies pursue unquestionably commendable missions. But such organizations can be as mechanical and task-oriented as any machine shop or manufacturing plant.

Put simply, vision is endemic to no class of organization. It’s benefits can be realized only when created through the energy and attention of consciously committed leaders.

Leave a reply

© Copyright 1999-2012 Management Associates. All rights reserved.