Recognizing employees’ efforts is critical to building workplace morale and motivation. But it can also play an important role in building new skills and capacities.
We once surveyed a software development firm in Nebraska. Meeting with a cross section of staff members, we asked a range of open-ended questions, one of which was, “How do you know if you are doing a good job?”
As is often the case, many employees said they didn’t really know when their supervisor thought they were doing well. A few said they found out only in their annual performance review.
In one department, however, employee after employee told us that their department head believed in them even more than they believed in themselves.
She not only appreciated what they had done, they said. She continually expressed confidence in what they could do, encouraging them to take on and succeed at new projects.
And more than a few said that under her leadership, they had grown in ways they wouldn’t have thought were possible.
When we met this woman, it was immediately clear that she leveraged the power of encouragement to an unusual degree. In her view, the most fundamental role of leadership was “harvesting the talents of people.”
And in that light, she took it as her personal responsibility to find the strengths of her employees — even those still undeveloped — and value, encourage, and nurture those gifts.
Her approach was inspiring, convincing, and refreshing. But it was effective as well: the difference between her department and others in the organization was night and day in terms of morale, enthusiasm, and commitment.
Results such as these should come as little surprise. We all appreciate having our potential acknowledged by others, particularly those we report to. And rare is the person who is indifferent to warm encouragement to stretch and take risks.
An important question for leaders to reflect on, then, is the degree to which they look beyond what employees have already done in the workplace, to find what they could do with appropriate encouragement, mentoring, trust, and support.