Why you should be thanking your employees more often

By Bruce Tulgan

People at all levels in the workplace say that “we don’t stop often enough to acknowledge what we’ve done and celebrate some of our successes.” Celebration and acknowledgment are the first steps in the continuous improvement process because, without them, people start feeling beaten down and disheartened. They begin to wonder what the point is and even question why they try so hard when no one seems to even notice their work. That’s a problem because it’s really quite amazing how much people accomplish for each other at work.

While lots of people find plenty of time to blame and complain when things go wrong, most do not take enough time to stop and appreciate each other when things go right. One reason is that even major initiatives in organizations rarely have a tidy ending that can be celebrated. Most initiatives have ongoing clean-up and next stages. They are, more or less, never-ending. But it’s still important to pause and acknowledge what’s been accomplished and to thank all the players. If the project is never-ending, stop along the way to celebrate and thank people—before you continue on to the next stages. A celebration can come in many forms. Maybe when your team completes phase one of a major initiative, there’s some kind of recognition—at least from management—of the people who worked on it.

Maybe there is an employee of the month or a quarterly meeting where people receive special recognition. Or maybe there’s simply a pizza party and you exchange high fives with others on the team. The real go-to person makes sure to pause, celebrate, and thank people for what’s been accomplished. In the organizations I’ve worked with, I’ve seen so many official and unofficial ways to acknowledge people for the work they’ve done. Make sure you’re acknowledging people in at least one or both of the following ways.

Official Recognition

Some organizations are better at this than others. Sales organizations do a great job measuring and awarding specific goals, such as dollar targets. So they are good models of high recognition and thanks. Exceed your numbers in a sales role and people will notice: Usually, salespeople are ranked by the numbers, and top sales are recognized with certificates, president’s club membership, wristwatches, or attendance at incentive vacation trips, and always money. But there is always so much important performance that cannot be easily measured, but it nonetheless deserves official recognition and thanks.

Salespeople cannot always control their top line or their bottom line; there are factors outside their control. But it’s still so important for salespeople to ask the right questions, use the right messages, and even if the sale isn’t made today or this week, cultivate customer relationships and nurture the sale for the long term. How do you create a culture of recognition and celebration around that sort of valuable but hard-to-measure behavior? Of course, managers need to be aware of those dimensions of performance, ask salespeople to track their own performance, listen to random samples of calls, and recognize success in these areas despite the fact they are hard to measure.

That’s what’s done at the most effective sales organizations I’ve observed. In one organization, in particular, every week, there’s a theme, key questions, or messages it is pushing salespeople to use on the phone. Everybody records all of their calls, and there is always someone to keep score on how well they do with those questions in their calls. Meanwhile, coworkers are encouraged (in between their own incoming calls) to listen in on their colleagues’ calls and to learn from each other. Along the way, coworkers are empowered to hand out ” great questions!” and “on message!” tags to each other. People proudly display their tags and also give them to others, repurposing the tags they’ve been given. It is a simple form of peer recognition that has become central to that organization’s sales culture.

Unofficial Recognition

Again, we can look to the military, which is replete with opportunities for relatively informal recognition and thanks. These range from exempting a well-performing new recruit from “drop and do push-ups” or cleaning the latrine, to awarding long- term service people who have good records with special assignments, training, or informal peer leadership opportunities.

Those are examples of unofficial rewards that people with rank can grant. But what if you don’t have that kind of rank, whether you’re in the military or some other organization? You still want to find ways to acknowledge the people with whom you work regularly. They are doing important work, accomplishing a lot for you, or simply helping you out on a regular basis. Even if you lack the authority to grant people time off or give them a special assignment, there is a way you can acknowledge their contributions. Get in the habit of saying “thank you.”

Did I really say that? Yes, I did. “Thank you,” like “Please,” is as old as the hills. But like “Please,” I’m afraid “Thank you” has gone out of fashion. When we do say it, too often it’s in a perfunctory way. A meaningful thank-you can be especially valuable in our sideways and diagonal relationships. Too often, we get in the habit of feeling nothing but frustration with each other, usually because neither side understands the challenges the other faces. But just as complaining, blaming, and finger-pointing leaves people with a bad feeling, a thank-you leaves people with a good feeling. Appreciation yields the inverse of the “disdain breeds disdain” rule.

If you treat somebody with disdain, of course, you give that person a psychological incentive to diminish your opinion and to want you to be less powerful. Inversely, if you demonstrate understanding and appreciation of someone’s contribution, you create a psychological incentive in the individual to give greater weight to your opinion. And that person will want to strengthen the weight of your opinion in the eyes of others. Appreciation and gratitude breed appreciation and gratitude.


Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Adapted from The Art of Being Indispensable at Work: Win Influence, Beat Overcommitment, and Get the Right Things Done by Bruce Tulgan. Copyright 2020 Bruce Tulgan. All rights reserved.

Bruce Tulgan is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker. He is the founder and chairman of RainmakerThinking, Inc., and since 1995, he has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations, ranging from Aetna to Walmart and from the U.S. Army to the YMCA.

 

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