Like many of you I watched the Academy Awards on Sunday night. I´m not embarrassed to say that I like the fashion show (what was Charlize Theron thinking with that bow?) and the stars´ acceptance speeches. In fact, I´ve been thinking a lot about something Reese Witherspoon said about her parents. She said that they´ve always told her how proud they are of her whether she was making her bed or making a movie. And then she added how important that is for children. Naturally, I had to remind my husband of this fact as he was falling asleep.
It is important that we tell children that we´re proud, but it´s also essential that we tell the people who work for us that we´re happy with the work they´re doing . . . when they´re doing a good job. I´m not suggesting or recommending that you begin to tell your people how proud you are of all their accomplishments though I can imagine that after a particularly difficult selling season or major productivity obstacle you might very well express your pride.
The point is this: people of all ages need feedback, positive reinforcement, and a reason to keep working hard. In business, we don´t normally use phrases like, "I´m proud of the way you handled so-and-so difficult customer . . ." or "I´m proud of the improvements you´ve made toward streamline whatever . . ." But we can take the time out to let people know that their efforts are being noticed and that the changes in their work are making a difference.
You can do this in formal and informal ways. You might hold a brief meeting, for example, during which you focus on the strides people are making in certain areas. Bring a cake and celebrate someone´s achievements. In your "speech" indicate exactly how the changes in an employee´s productivity has made a difference in your company´s output. Go around the room and ask everyone to come up with one personal goal-something they know will help the company as a whole. Keep track of what everyone says and bring the information to your next meeting so that you and your staff can monitor everyone´s progress. By bringing people´s goals "out into the open" you´re giving everyone an opportunity to help one another.
Let´s say you´ve got someone who´s absolutely stellar at assessing a customer´s problem. Someone down the hall could use a little "stellar" in her communications with customers. So you pair them up for an hour so that the stellar wannabe can listen in on the expert. Not that I´m so stellar (well, maybe . . . ) but I used to do this when I was trying to train an employee to talk to the media. I was the director of communications for a trade association and fielded calls from the press constantly. Sometimes that´s all I would do in an entire morning. In order to get more work done I had my assistant sit in and listen. Sometimes she laughed at what I said, because sometimes when you´re talking to the media you need to be somewhat circumspect in your language. But she learned some tricks and that helped to free up some of my time. It also demonstrated a really easy, low-cost strategy for developing an employee.
Was I proud of her? You bet. Did I say so? Maybe. I don´t remember, but I did let her know that she could do this and when I would sit in on her conversations with the media I could see that she really was making strides. Most of us don´t make movies like Reese Witherspoon, but we all know how good it feels to have our effort noticed and whether your stellar work is showcased on the big screen or in an inter-office memo it deserves a four-star rating.