What do people want most in their careers? Statistics show that people want positive reinforcement and acknowledgement that lets them know they are doing a good job.
The No. 1 issue people have in the workforce today is, “Will I be valued and will I have a job in the future?” You want the people who are working for you to want to be there. Otherwise, what do you think they are going to spend their time doing?
Yet what do managers do to acknowledge their people’s value and appease their concerns? Instead, managers focus more on the problems coming at them rather than on their team’s achievements or solutions to drive continued, sustainable growth, continually putting out fires and jumping from one problem to the next.
The byproduct of acknowledgement is you build morale, which breeds the type of culture that you are looking to create. Ask yourself, do you get acknowledged for something on a daily basis? Chances are if you have not been the recipient of consistent, positive, and authentic praise, you may be conditioned that acknowledgment is not all that critical or effective. After all, we’ve learned from our predecessors. Just ask yourself how often you authentically acknowledge people on a daily basis.
Why don’t we praise our employees enough? Why are we so stingy with our acknowledgement? What are we afraid might happen? Do we feel that we only have a limited supply of acknowledgment and we don’t want to use it up?
Oh, I can see it now. Here’s the visual, You are in your office one day and one of your salespeople comes over to you and says, “I just want you to know that I’ve noticed you are taking more time and interest in my work and the positive reinforcement I’m getting around my behavior is generating some worthwhile results. I’m getting the sense that you are appreciating what I’m doing here more and more. Well, I just want you to know that you are making me feel just too good about myself and the company so this has just got to stop.”
While this is an obvious exaggeration, the real truth is that we don’t acknowledge others more often because we either don’t know how to and are a bit reluctant to do so, we are afraid if we acknowledge people too much they’ll start to slack off, we simply don’t think it’s really all that important, or we are afraid that it won’t come across as genuine.
They key to using positive reinforcement and acknowledgment as a powerful, motivating tool is to use it authentically, measurably, and unconditionally rather than issuing generic blanket and hollow statements of praise that sound like, “Good work!” Instead, recognize when something specific has occurred. Notice what the person did or how they have grown and praise them for who they are and who they are becoming.
General recognition such as, “I love the work you’re doing” or “You did a great job” is not enough. It can actually backfire to work against you if the person you’re delivering the acknowledgement to feels it’s either inauthentic, conditional, or a manipulative strategy or believes you have your own agenda attached to it. That’s why when you give genuine, honest acknowledgement, make sure it’s specific and measurable.
Be as specific and as measurable as you can be with your praise. Reinforce a behavior, activity, change, mindset, or technique that you noticed that made a profound impact on their success and the results they’ve achieved. By acknowledging a specific behavior, the person knows what to reinforce and do the next time they tackle that task. In essence, you are reinforcing best practices while they’re doing it.
The following are three examples:
- “You really demonstrated your ability to effectively follow up with Mary Johnson, the last sale you made. Your persistence, the way you specifically approached the conversation with Mrs. Johnson, and the steps you took when honoring your selling system turned that volatile prospect into a happy customer. This is certainly an accomplishment to feel proud of.”
- “I really appreciate you honoring this deadline and turning this proposal around for me so quickly, even with all of the other priorities that are on your plate. Your work through this process is a testament to your commitment to doing what it really takes to effectively manage an overwhelming workload.”
- “I knew you could do an exceptional job on managing that new project and getting the team involved in completing it, and you proved me right. There were many opportunities to lose your cool or dump this project on to someone else but you maintained a positive attitude and a steadfast work ethic. I just want you to know I truly admire that in you and your commitment to see this through to completion.”
If your appreciation of a person’s efforts is truly authentic and sincere, you have the power to make an employee’s day. Besides, how else do your employees know if they are doing a great job? When they don’t hear about problems? I have yet to hear about someone who left an organization because they were appreciated too much.
Since your people know the behavior to reinforce, your recognition will further sharpen their ability to self-generate results and solutions on their own rather than continually run to you.
Keith Rosen is an executive sales coach, speaker, and best-selling author of many books, including Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions. He was named one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country by Inc. magazine and Fast Company. He can be contacted at 516-771-1444, firstname.lastname@example.org, or his Web site.