How to build a culture of timely, meaningful appreciation.
All of us have a certain need for our contributions to be valued by our peers, our bosses, and by the company as a whole. While a competitive level of financial compensation is important, rewards cannot be about PVLR alone. Recognising and appreciating great work and differential results is a very important enabler to drive business success. It cultivates strong positive emotions that can be very uplifting and can energise our team members to do better.
A key part of appreciating others is to give credit to the right people and when it is due. While we all know that appreciation is important, many of us struggle to do this systematically. We sometimes hold back. Some of us don’t know how to express appreciation authentically (frankly, “blah” congratulatory messages and thank you one liners that are not heartfelt don’t cut it).
Then, there is the other side when some of us might experience the occasional bouts of under-appreciation and feel that we are not being appropriately recognised. And then there are some people who may feel that others are getting undue credit for what they may have done. Some of us also fall in the trap of thinking only about what each of us has done and perhaps denying the contributions of others.
So, sharing credit, and giving credit the right way to the right people at the right time is very important. My message this week focuses on the importance of giving credit and what we can do to build a more meaningful culture of appreciation.
Why is it so important to give credit?
The answer isn’t as simple as offering a feel-good factor. It goes much deeper than that. Vital contributions at work can be rendered invisible when they are not acknowledged or the credit is wrongly allocated. In the short term, this may not make much of a visible difference – after all, the contribution has already been made, right? In the long term, however, this invisibility has a critical impact on the mindset and motivation of people.
Dr. Paul White, psychologist and co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, talks about how recognition is very closely linked with engagement in his keynote speech on appreciation. Have a look at this video, which captures some of the highlights of his talk:
It is imperative for people to know that their positive contributions are being seen and acknowledged. An organisation that manages to do this earns itself a reputation for fairness, motivating its people to deliver their best work.
On the other hand, if people’s contributions are not valued, the drive to excel naturally suffers. There is a lack of trust and people feel that their work is likely to be overlooked or that someone else will get the kudos for their success.
Think about it. Nearly all of us have experienced situations where we felt that credit was either not given or was assigned unfairly. How did that make you feel? And yet, despite how we are all eager to receive appreciation, we often hesitate to give others their due. Why does that happen?
It could be a range of factors – from worrying about what others may think to dismissing it as useless. People sometimes fear that their praise may be mistaken as inauthentic flattery, or that it might be out of context. At other times, pride and ego can act as roadblocks, making you hesitant to shine the spotlight on someone else.
But whatever the reason, if appreciation is to be central to our culture at Ndiema, then we need to approach this very differently. Often, we make the mistake of thinking that appreciation is something that gets captured in large scale end year award ceremonies. Sure, those are great platforms, but this goes much beyond that. This is about building a space where people can feel appreciated every day – where you don’t need to wait for a specific occasion or platform to recognise someone. And this is why, when it comes to giving credit, every single person plays an important role in enabling it.
So, how can we together facilitate and sustain a culture of meaningful appreciation?
1. Give credit where due
Make it a habit to appreciate those who have played an important role in the success of your team or project – or even in your personal journey. Be specific and personal; blanket statements (‘Great job, team!’) aren’t half as effective as appreciating the right person for the right reason (‘Thanks for creating a new tracking system, Roda. The accuracy has really helped us get back on track.’). This shows you’ve been paying attention and that your praise is genuine. Timeliness is also essential. Don’t wait for year-end reviews or awards functions – show appreciation as and when the occasion arises.
Chief medical officer of the CareMore Health System, Sachin H. Jain highlights the role of ‘quiet heroes’ in his Harvard Business Review article, The Importance of Giving Credit: ‘The best contributors are often the quietest… But people in the guts of an organization often know that some of these individuals are the lynchpins who sustain a project or unit. Taking the time to identify and reward the quiet heroes can generate good will across an organization because it creates the sense that there is real integrity.’
Try to make sure that team members are not being overvalued or undervalued. Appreciation must be based on actual contributions rather than one’s place in the hierarchy, else we risk prioritising status over good, solid work.
2. Set aside time for appreciation
Has your team just completed an important project? Perhaps you’ve had a fantastic quarter, met your stretch targets, or managed to get through some really tough times together. If so, there’s no better time to schedule an appreciation session – a space for colleagues to come together to celebrate each other’s contributions in a public forum. A milestone moment is a great time to begin this tradition.
The rules are simple. Firstly, there should be no criticism, even though it may be constructive – save that for feedback sessions. Secondly, everyone should get the chance to speak and appreciate their peers. Finally, it’s best if the atmosphere is light and conducive to open conversation. I suggest steering clear of a very formal setting; you could try holding the session over lunch or tea and coffee. Many successful teams swear by them.
3. Give credit to those who give credit
Encourage the practice of appreciation by recognising those who give credit freely and honestly. This demonstrates that we value genuine appreciation. Always remember that there’s plenty of credit to go round.
As Ben Dattner, executive coach and organisational development consultant, points out in his Harvard Business Review article, Give Credit Where It’s Due, ‘This “expansion” of credit enhances team cohesion and trust, promoting more and better collaboration. You can symbolically and substantively reward people who credit each other, for example by saying something as simple as “Thanks for sharing the spotlight on that project, Jan” or by including credit-sharing as a metric of good work behavior in formal reviews. You should also withhold rewards from those who demonstrate “Teflon” tendencies, taking too much undue credit themselves and reflexively deflecting blame onto others.’
However, don’t feel compelled to praise those who haven’t contributed positively in a particular situation. If everyone receives appreciation – regardless of their actual contribution or lack thereof – then the meaningfulness of the gesture is lost.
4. Kickstart the virtuous cycle
There are times when we feel under-appreciated, and it can seem like recognition isn’t anywhere on the horizon. That’s when it’s time to own the situation and take action. Appreciation is a based on a give-and-take model. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, this is the time to break out of our bubble and give credit to someone else – thereby kickstarting the cycle of appreciation.
In their article, If You’re Feeling Unappreciated, Give Someone Else Credit for Harvard Business Review, veteran family business advisors Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer explain that credit-giving is a two-way street: ‘Appreciation is like playing catch – you need to throw the ball to have it come back… We’re aware that appreciations can sound hokey, even inauthentic. But dozens of times we have seen it break through the bitterness corroding relationships… [It has] opened up a space for the real work to get started. That’s what appreciations are all about. Try it. Show some appreciation to someone today and see what comes back.’
Anyone who has genuinely praised someone can tell you that it feels great to give credit, too. We have nothing to lose by offering honest praise – and everything to gain. I recently came across this great video, an experiment on the science of happiness, which shows how acknowledging the contribution of people who have made a difference to you, can make you just so happy. It’s much the same with giving credit. Do watch this when you get the chance:
So, what are some easy ways to kickstart this virtuous cycle?
- At your next meeting, thank a colleague for a specific contribution that has helped you.
- At the successful completion of any project, share specific thank-you notes to all those who helped make it a success. This is a great way to help quiet heroes shine. Facebook at Work could be a great platform to give this a try.
- When you witness such instances of appreciation (whether at a meeting or over email), be sure to recognise the team member who has taken the initiative to give credit. This creates a workplace culture where honest appreciation is valued as much as ambition and drive.
Do start taking the time to build in many more opportunities for appreciation in your interactions with your teams. This is something that we absolutely must start role modelling as leaders. Many of you are already doing this in different ways. It would be great if you could share some of that with our larger team. If you have any specific suggestions on what we could do to enable this better, do write in with them. We would be happy to start trying them out.