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Acknowledging People is SO Much Work!

October 1, 2012

Several executives were standing around my office the other day, debating what to do about a particular employee. Not that someone was in trouble – rather, this person had performed an outstanding accomplishment, one which had a substantial impact on our bottom line. They were discussing how best to acknowledge this. A special luncheon in her honor? A handwritten letter? A big “thank you” message written in the sky?

We decided the best thing was for her manager to sit down with her, face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart, and simply tell her what a great job she had done. Come to think of it, we should probably be doing this all the time anyways, with each other and all of our people whenever we catch them doing a good job, large or small.

“Everyone wants to be acknowledged,” I offered, “even us, the execs.” They nodded heartily in agreement. Just because we’re big-shot leaders doesn’t mean that we don’t need the soul-rush of a good pat on the back once in a while, or an earnest gesture of appreciation. I don’t care who you are, or what your position is, it’s nice to be recognized for the good work you are doing. And I bet that makes you more likely to give recognition to others, creating a virtuous cycle of “Good work!”

The group then dispersed, back to their responsibilities and headaches, and in all likelihood, promptly got caught up in the details of an imminent project, forgetting all about our inspirational conversation.

Not ten minutes later, I received a call from the Chairman of the Board of Directors from a company which I serve on.

“I’m just calling to thank you for being on our board and tell you what a great job you are doing,” he said.

“Oh,” I replied, somewhat flustered. “Well. Thanks.”

I really didn’t think my Board contribution was all that impressive. I hesitated for a second, wondering what else he was really calling about. An update? Some corporate gossip? An urgent concern?

“There’s nothing else,” he continued. “I just wanted to tell you that. We really appreciate having your gray matter in the room with us.”

Since my wife is a Psychologist, I knew right away that “gray matter” referred to my brain. Good thing, though.

With that, he said goodbye and we hung up. This was odd, the timing, coming just minutes after the discussion in my office. I imagined him driving his car down the highway on his way to some meeting, and having the mindfulness, the will and thoughtfulness to actually make that call and say what he said. It was very intentional.

So why does it always seem like such an ordeal in my own mind?

We’re all extremely busy and important, and I know, I know, it takes such a huge effort to pick up the phone and dial those ten numbers — or one number, if it’s speed dial — or to mobilize your legs to walk over to someone’s office, and then to move your lips like that and activate your vocal chords to say, “Good job. I appreciate you.”

Whew! It’s so much work!

So we forget. We procrastinate. We’re lazy about these softer things. We need constant reminders, like someone calling you out of the blue to exemplify the point immediately following a discussion about it.

You know, sometimes God sends these signals that are really hard to miss. He might as well have written me a message in the sky.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2012 11:09 am

    We all want an atta boy — I don’t care how humble you are. There’s a need in all of us to know that our work makes a difference. I have found that it’s the people at the bottom (janitors, service workers) and the people at the top (senior execs) who miss out on the recognition. I remember the shock on my bosses face when i commented on something she had done that was noteworthy. Her boss didn’t notice, but I did.

  2. October 1, 2012 11:54 am

    Dave Ramsey had an interesting chapter about this in Entreleadership. There’s tremendous power in encouraging others and developing an environment of gratitude. Even off-the-cuff comments made by others have made a huge impact in my life. But yet I don’t do that to others nearly as much as I should. I guess that I feel cheesy doing it sometimes. Or maybe it’s just laziness. Perhaps it’s something I need to do more.

  3. October 1, 2012 12:31 pm

    “And I bet that makes you more likely to give recognition to others…”

    I would like to think that positive recognition has a good chance of being passed along.
    It works better that way, and has less of a chance of going to one’s head…or to one’s grey matter.

  4. October 1, 2012 1:39 pm

    Most of us are really good at catching people doing something bad, but not nearly as good at “catching” others good performance. Those skilled at the latter will often see results exceeding those following financial rewards, in my opinion. I’d better work on it!

  5. October 3, 2012 7:14 pm

    A message in the sky would be nice :). It sounds like you work with lovely people, Jim. I enjoyed this story and it makes me want to pay it forward tomorrow 🙂

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