Friday, 4 March 2016

Everyday TRUST: Can we banish this Appreciation Famine?

Is there an appreciation famine running riot in most of our organizations? Employment Engagement surveys have pointed it out directly, and still we couldn't care less! Intuitively we know that people want to be acknowledged for their contribution, small or big. And they are least impressed if you make them wait long. Do I feel valued enough and is my boss genuinely bothered about how I am right now? This is something each one of us can relate to at some point or the other. With a stiff upper lip, we may like to sweep it under the carpet in the name of keeping those “darn” emotions out of the workplace.

Take a moment to listen carefully to what people are talking about in their exit interviews. Go one layer below. And then maybe one more. And you’ll realize how we end up paying a big price for ignoring some of the most basic and obvious things. Alright!, Now, do we really need sociologists to tell us that we want to be accepted, liked and appreciated by others? Just that some may want it more, but is it that tough to figure this out? Even as we achieve outcomes that we are proud of, at some level, it feels great to be validated by others we respect. And when that is missing, many of us feel that void, as if a key element of the experience has been denied to us.

Lack of appreciation when combined with an overly critical approach seriously compromises the quality of our relationships, impacts our performance at work, and breeds toxicity in the work environment. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” as a cherished maxim is thankfully getting discarded in many schools. But, wait! Have the nasty headmasters and scowling matrons infiltrated the corporate world? The belief that words of praise might nurture complacency has many takers who should’ve known better. It is of course a basic human tendency that our brain tends to notice mistakes and problems more than the positives. But that is only part of the story. In most cases it is a lifetime of habits that we are up against. The truth is that many of us are so uncomfortable appreciating and praising others even in our personal lives. It is easier to drown ourselves in our busy schedules. And when there is no way out, we end up appreciating in such a half-hearted manner that even a child can see through that pretense with ease. Pious platitudes and insincere homilies have been passed around as appreciation for far too long! 

And by the way, we are talking appreciation and acknowledgment that happens on normal days. Don't confuse it with those rewards that you hand out when your project has done well. For a leader it is important to develop a habit of recognizing and appreciating the small improvements in "REAL TIME", the positives that may not necessarily fit into the big league. To be able to spread waves of positivity and thereby optimism in the team by showing that you seriously do care. Even as you keep your uncompromising performance standards intact, how about nurturing an upbeat environment that people love to keep coming back to? Where people are innately inspired to go the extra mile without getting prodded. How do you make this happen?

  1. Commitment: Commit yourself to notice positives
  2. Presence: Being Present with People
  3. Enablers: Enabling Positives, a Way of Working

Commitment: Commit yourself to notice positives
Make sure you commit your time and energy to acknowledging and appreciating people. You don't want to be seen as doing it under duress. The best way to appear genuine is when you appreciate with facts.

What is it that Nikhil has specifically done in his work yesterday that you find worth appreciating? Was it the fact that he took on extra work to support an unwell colleague? Or the way he spoke to the customer to resolve a critical issue? Was it the thoroughness in his email? Or the quick and accurate analysis he did to fix a critical problem?

Instead of saying “Well done Nikhil, Keep it up”, say something like “Well done Nikhil, your quick analysis and identification of the problem is impressive. I am quite happy that you have used the tool we spoke about last week for your trouble-shooting. Tell me, how was the experience like?”
Nikhil will surely notice that you have taken the effort to observe and understand how he got the issue fixed. And also, you are keen to know his side of the story as well. The very fact that you are interested in it means a lot for Nikhil, and you’ll see it in the glint in his eyes as he excitedly tells you what happened!

See, that’s why you need to be gathering the facts, so that you can appreciate thoroughly. Carefully observe the good things that people are doing, which you tend to gloss over as work becomes overwhelming. Learn the story behind the story, and you are set! In particular, find out specific behaviors and changes that individuals in your team are embracing on a daily basis.

Also, there is no need to use too flowery language either. Have your data and information ready, and use simple but genuine words of appreciation. It will strike a chord for sure. All too often we are diligent in collecting facts and scrutinizing information when something has gone wrong. We love our Root Cause Analysis meetings, don't we? How about putting those skills to good use, when things have gone right as well? Which one feels better? 

Presence: Being Present with People

Alright, this appreciation thing may not be your cup of tea, and you find yourself having to do this, now that you are a leader/manager. Do you want to make sure it shows? You know how it feels when somebody says “Good Job; Fantastic. Keep it up” with his/her eyes glued to the smartphone and laptop screens, right? Even if this is unfamiliar territory, are you hell-bent on allowing your efforts go waste?

Your words, tone, gestures all work together to make your appreciation seem genuine. Make sure you establish rapport with the person with good eye-contact (Of course, you aren't going to stare like a psycho). Be present 100% while doing this. The interaction reeks of fraud if you’re doing it while texting or doing some work. A warm friendly smile can do wonders, so loosen up a bit, for now! While it’s important to avoid flowery saccharine language, make sure you do use positive and energetic phrases and adjectives while appreciating.

Listen intently, when they share their experiences. Make effective use of positive gestures and non-verbal expressions, so that it reflects presence. If you’re in a hurry to get to a client meeting get that out of your way, and then speak to your team member. Remember, you want the person to feel valued. The idea is not to simply be done with this activity somehow or the other. Also, timing is absolutely important. For sure, Nikhil ain’t getting thrilled if you’ve waited for a mystical 42 day-cycle to appreciate his successful resolution of an ultra-urgent critical issue! So, don’t wait for the full-moon to appear. Appreciate in the moment. It makes a huge difference!

Avoid giving confusing messages, “Your presentation was great Lisa, but the number of slides can be reduced next time”. You’ve just dropped the “but bomb”, followed by an improvement suggestion or criticism. Clever Ha!? Never mind. Lisa wasn't listening in any case. She has neatly filtered out whatever went before the but bomb! So, your appreciation has vanished into thin air just like that! Select a different time to give your improvement suggestions. Maybe Lisa herself will ask you, or even tell you!

And here comes another tip! One of the simplest ways to improve your presence with people is to greet them and acknowledge their presence. Whether they are your seniors, peers or juniors, make sure you smile and say Hi! in a warm, welcoming and genuine manner. Especially those who are junior to you will feel good if you do it. There are too many of your peers who don’t bother with this. It helps you connect and establish rapport. Find time for pleasantries, small talk, a good hearty laugh, whenever possible. Maybe not at a crisis point. But then again, even in a crisis situation, you aren't helping much by wearing that stiff frown! Talking about crises, well that’s a topic in itself.

Type out “Management by wandering around” into your Google search. If not, simply get up from your office and move around with the intention to make eye contact, say a quick Hi! and more. When you are near someone’s desk, why not pull a chair and sit next to them and have a 45 seconds chat? It is far better than making them "look up to you" while being boxed into their seat, as you are standing tall like a gestapo general, shoulders rolled back, occasionally throwing a glance at their monitors and chat windows!  Crack a joke, maybe? And of course don't fall off your chair if they give you advance warning about some impending crisis and some assumptions gone for a sixer. Such is the power of every-day trust in action. Getting it early enough from the horse’s mouth helps you keep your job too! You’ll be amazed at the results over a period of time, as an upbeat work culture starts taking root.

Let me say this again. If there is only one thing you want to take out from this write-up it is this: “Your intention is what matters above everything else. People are smart enough to decode that fairly accurately. Even without your awareness, your energy is radiating your intention in a million ways. After all, words form only 7% of communication. Think about it”.

Cultivate: Enabling Positives, a Way of Working
So, you are responsible for managing programs, securing deliverables to customer with good quality, managing people, impressing your bosses, aligning with the organizational vision… Impressive. How about planning to generate positive news items for every member in your team? What are the mini-outcomes and quick wins that make each team member look impressive in the eyes of others (their peers, managers and even customers)? What are Lisa and Mikhail’s special strengths that they don't necessarily get to showcase often at work? Lisa’s job may be that of a thorough business analyst, very strong in number crunching. But you also know that she writes amazing blogs and has a great voice. How about getting Lisa to prepare some powerful videos that can be used for your customer’s rollout presentations? Nikhil maybe a good technical troubleshooter, but he is also great at presenting to large audiences. 

Go ahead and identify such mini opportunities for each member in your team. Get your leads to find out and understand their folks much better. Integrate these opportunities with existing work assignments. So, people don't see it as tiresome fluff. Just some new flavor to how they do things. Only you know that you've got this vested interest to make them look like cool stars on a regular basis. Of course, your projects and programs can also benefit big time. Some intractable problems can also be fixed along the way if Lady Luck also plays supportive!

The idea is to cultivate opportunities worthy of appreciation with some deft advance planning. So, while you assign a tough problem to Nikhil, see what can be added alongside to generate some positive buzz about Nikhil. And when both outcomes are secured, it is your job to casually but very firmly blow the trumpet and make sure Nikhil does come off looking pretty cool!

Yes, make a spreadsheet to track this Appreciation Cultivation activity! Congratulations, you have given a big push to employee engagement! Much more than those quarterly parties and cake-cutting rituals.

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