“Why do I only hear from management when I do something wrong?”
I’m a great admirer of Susan Scott and highly recommend her book, Fierce Conversations as it contains invaluable advice about dealing with people. Scott is former head of training consultancy, Fierce Inc., and her trainers found that one of the most common employee complaints was lack of acknowledgment for good work. This article was by one of the Fierce master facilitators, Jennifer Brewer.
“They never notice anything I do well,” or “I only hear from management when I do something wrong.” It’s not uncommon to find a culture where people are holding their breath, bracing themselves against the next time they’ll be criticized for a mistake.
“Many managers feel awkward showing gratitude and shy away from it [recognition],” Dr Whillans from Harvard Business School said in an article in 2019. “That’s why organizations need to make a push to help managers with this. It can make all the difference in whether a talented worker stays or goes.”
We can all understand that giving negative feedback is usually awkward: a 2017 survey reported in a Harvard Business Review online article, found that 44% of 7,631 managers said giving negative feedback was stressful or difficult, and 21% admitted they avoid giving negative feedback at all. But astonishingly, 37% of managers admitted they avoid giving positive feedback! Authors of the article said:
Leaders obviously carry some incorrect beliefs about the value and benefits of different forms of feedback. They vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement. Conversely, they greatly overestimate the value and benefit of negative or corrective feedback…Giving only negative feedback diminishes a leader’s effectiveness in the eyes of others and does not have the effect they believe it has.”
So, why is acknowledgment rarely consciously and consistently given? Here are some common responses:
- “They already know – I shouldn’t have to tell them.”
- “Pay is acknowledgment enough.”
- “Too much acknowledgment slows down production – it takes too much time.”
- “I’m not comfortable giving acknowledgment, and some people seem genuinely uncomfortable receiving compliments.”
- “They’ll think I’m fishing for a reciprocal comment.”
- “I don’t want to get too personal, want to keep this relationship professional.”
The above may be true. Employees may already know, although I don’t think you can tell someone what you appreciate about them too much!
Some people may feel uncomfortable giving and receiving appreciation – unfortunately, we’re not used to giving it.
The Gallup Organization has concluded that many people, especially the younger generations, would work for less money as long as they felt appreciated.
We can choose to stick to our reasons, and continue to have periodical performance reviews where we talk about business in – as Susan Scott puts it – “carefully parsed phrases, approved by legal counsel.” We can check “meets and/or exceeds expectations” or “needs improvement in this area”, etc.
But ask yourself, what is likely to happen if we retreat from giving sincere acknowledgment? People won’t feel truly valued and may do only just enough work to stay under the radar rather than bring their full enthusiasm, intelligence and creativity to the process.
High attrition rates result from resentment – “I’m going to go where I know I will be appreciated and truly part of the team.”
In today’s economic environment, the organizations who are creative and original will survive. And that means we need to surround ourselves with people who are passionate and energetic. Who genuinely want to be there, fully functioning, who feel valued.
You can go beyond the surface, to share appreciation authentically, without getting all gushy or taking a lot of time. It’s a simple formula. Your acknowledgment should include:
What – The observable behavior
Where – Where it happened
When – When it happened
Why – Why it was good, and what changed or got produced for the better
What you say doesn’t have to be very long. It can be as simple as:
“Thank you for getting that report back to me so quickly. With your information, I can now make a decision about the next step.”
“I have genuinely appreciated your participation in this meeting today. I believe your input helped us all understand the process better – what will and won’t work; and, as a result, our strategy will be stronger.”
When you give heartfelt, thoughtful admiration, people feel it; in your body language, your tone of voice. It’s not just word speak. And you can do this on the spur of the moment when you realize someone has done something well. You can also use this as an exercise to begin or end a meeting.
Fierce, Inc. recently did an appreciation exercise where everyone shared what they appreciated about each other. Participants shared that “the impact of this exercise is profound, and is a reminder that expressing our appreciation of others can transcend beyond our boundaries and expectations.” This is the real deal. When people are connected at this level, business takes care of itself.”