[Excerpt from The Culture Question]
Some managers are like the person who tells their partner, “I said ‘I love you’ when we first got together, and I’ll let you know if anything changes.” The underlying belief here is that no news is good news. Despite the fact that, for leaders, no news often is good news, some employees fill the silence with worry about whether they are doing the right thing or are appreciated.
Employees want to be valued and appreciated by their leaders. Unfortunately, some managers seem to fear that “excessive” recognition will dilute their praise, cheapen it, and reduce motivation for future outstanding performance. This is simply not true.
In their HBR article “The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio,” Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman write, “Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity.”4 Drawing on multiple studies, the authors state that the mere acknowledgment of good performance increases the likelihood of good performance in the future. Furthermore, giving specific feedback – telling a person exactly what you liked and why you liked it – dramatically increases the likelihood of that level of performance occurring again.
If employees are going to find value in the work they do each day, they need to hear that their efforts matter – that leaders notice their work and are willing to pause to acknowledge and validate contributions. Without encouragement, people wonder whether they are appreciated and may question whether their contributions matter to the organization’s success.
Offering validation is an important strategy for increasing workplace satisfaction and creating a healthy workplace culture. When we see praiseworthy attitudes and actions, we should not keep our observations to ourselves, but instead verbalize our thoughts and offer words of validation and praise.
If employees are going to find value in the work they do each day, they need to hear that their efforts matter.
I, Michael, will never forget working in human resources and having to tell a recent immigrant, who really needed a job, that she had not been the successful candidate. It was difficult for me because I knew how hard it would be for her.
After watching me deliver the bad news, my manager gave me an immediate and affirming response that is still vivid in my mind: “You’re going to be a great human resources manager – you handled that with empathy and compassion.” By telling me what I had done well, she reinforced the importance of approaching people with sincerity and understanding. Her words gave me the fuel to continue with the often challenging work of human resources.
Recognizing positive behaviors reinforces them. Validation can be as simple as a statement like, “I could see that the way you listened to that client really worked to create a better relationship.” People need to know that they are doing things correctly so they can continue doing those things. When validation is done publicly, it reinforces a positive workplace culture across the organization.
It’s also important to consider the content of our validations. In his book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, Clifford Nass emphasizes the importance of being specific and creative when giving feedback:
An approach for enhancing positive evaluations is surprise because it gets people to pay attention and think harder about what you just said. For example, if you compliment someone on something that he or she thinks you are unaware of, it will have a bigger effect than if you keep dishing out the same obvious compliments.
When giving feedback, think differently. Don’t just state the obvious – describe what is special and unique about the person or their behavior.
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