I was working with a senior leadership team recently when the conversation turned to the importance of communication within their organization. We began talking about their culture of communication and what was considered “the norm.” As I asked how communication was used to give feedback within the organization, they assumed I meant “negative” feedback. They immediately jumped to feedback that is used to redirect performance or behavior of the negative variety, as opposed to thinking about the idea that communication could be used to deliver positive feedback. What a concept! Funny how we always assume feedback means the negative side of things.
I interrupted the group and asked, “No, how do you communicate with your team members when you want to praise them … to congratulate them on a job well done … to reinforce certain performance or behavior?” The room fell silent.
Praise? We don’t have time for that.
Clearly this group, this organization, this environment, was not one that had embedded a culture of praise into its natural operating rhythm.
I decided to approach this group from a different angle. I asked them, “Who has received some sort of written praise or thank you during the course of their career with other firms?” Nearly every hand went up. I asked, “Who still has that piece of paper?” All but one hand stayed up (and she said that she doesn’t keep anything paper, but rather recycles everything!). Interesting.
This whole conversation stuck with me. I had another opportunity earlier this week to reaffirm what I already knew. I was speaking with a group of senior sales executives representing many different companies. I asked two questions: “Who has written a note of praise or of thanks and given it to someone recently.” To their credit, several hands went up in the room. I then asked my second question: “Who has received a written note of praise or thanks in recent years … AND still has it in their office?” Nearly every hand in the room went up.
My point was made. We value praise. In fact, if my two “focus groups” are any indication of trend, we tend to hang onto “praise” as is evidenced by all these leaders holding onto pieces of paper which they have received during the course of their careers. This is nothing more than a few words written on a piece of paper. Come to think of it, a check is the same thing: it’s a small piece of paper with a few words written on it, yet I haven’t come across any leaders who hold onto canceled checks and keep them in a special folder in their office.
If we value praise ourselves, and clearly value the “simple” indications of praise, like a handwritten note, then why do we often fail in communicating praise or our thanks to others. We talked about why, and here’s what we came up with:
- Make time! It takes time to slow down and make the effort to praise people … especially when they are “just doing what they are supposed to be doing.” Yes, people, that’s called leadership.
- Stop making assumptions! We assume people would rather have a raise, then praise, even though intellectually we know that study after study has repeatedly shown that money is not a chief motivator for most people, but rather that respect and appreciation carry a tremendous of weight in influencing people’s perspectives about their work environment.
- Customize it! Different people like to receive praise differently and it’s up to you to figure that out. One person told a story of a time he called a woman onstage during an all-employee meeting to praise her and it didn’t go so well. Turns out, she is very uncomfortable being called out as the center of attention. Figure out what will work for each person and recognize that one size doesn’t fit all. Some people will respond to the public praise, others will prefer the private note, (and yes, some do simply want the check!).
- Just do it! People say, “Well, it doesn’t really mean that much anyway … I’ll remember to thank them next time!” Really? If that is true, then why do most of you still have notes of praise or thanks that you have received in the past? Think about your personal life. I still appreciate being “thanked” by my teens when I drop them off at a friend’s house, or by my family when I make dinner. It’s just a simple respect thing. People like to feel as if their efforts – no matter how big or how small – are appreciated.
What do you think? Do you have any “praise” that you hang onto? When was the last time you gave someone feedback … positive feedback … to thank them for a job well-done?