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By Keith Barnwell


“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou

Early in my career as a leadership development coach I worked with a particularly challenging senior executive. While we were discussing the various ways that she could show more consideration for those around her she shouted exasperatedly, “My life would be so much easier if I could just manage robots and I didn’t have to worry about making them feel good.”   Unfortunately, after many years of coaching executives, I have discovered that this mind-set is all too common.

If you are reading this in the year 2080, perhaps her wish has been granted and your staff of robots just get on with their tasks regardless of how they are treated. For those of us in the present, we continue to work with human beings who regularly experience a variety emotions ranging from joy, pride, security and confidence to sadness, jealousy, insecurity and anger.

And here is the kicker: whether you like it or not, as their manager or leader your behaviour and attitude towards them within the workplace will have a major influence on how they feel.  Even the most dispassionate of leaders should be aware of this because as long as you manage human beings, how they “feel” can, and in most cases will, have a direct impact on their job performance.

People are more likely to be engaged in their work, creative and more focused when they believe that their manager or leaders appreciate their efforts. Content employees are also less likely to look elsewhere for that ‘feel good’ factor, resulting in reduced employee turnover and all the associated costs that go with recruiting and training new people.

It’s fairly obvious to most of us that satisfied, valued employees are more productive employees, yet staff surveys consistently show low job satisfaction in the majority of work environments. The UK Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) Spring 2014 Employee Outlook report indicated that 58% of the workforce feels unsatisfied. One of the main reasons given for a lack of satisfaction in the workplace is a lack of appreciation from those above them.

This information isn’t new, we’ve been hearing it for years. The real question is if we know that the expression of appreciation is key to improving employee satisfaction and ultimately retention, why aren’t managers and leaders doing it?   I have listed below some of the more common excuses I encounter among my clients, along with some practical advice on how to replace these unproductive behaviours with more effective ones:

I am far too busy and important. You earn a large salary, you have lots of meetings and manage big teams and an even bigger budget. The last thing you have time

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for is needlessly telling people that they are doing a good job.   Instead Realise that saying “Thank You” or “Well Done” takes very little time and achieves so much that it is always worth doing. Donald Peterson, a former chairman of Ford Motors, said that the most important ten minutes of his day were spent boosting those around him.

I don’t need praise, so why should I praise others? You have worked very hard to get where you are, you are extremely dedicated to your work and possess a high level of commitment and intrinsic motivation.  Instead: Accept that everyone is different and those that you lead will have vastly different motivations and compensation packages.  It may feel uncomfortable at first, but as with every new habit, it will get easier – particularly when you begin to see the results!

I don’t know or understand these people. You may manage many people and it will take too much time and energy to get to know them individually.  Instead: Whilst it is true that getting to know people takes time and effort, you don’t have to do it all overnight. Small changes in behaviours lead to big changes in culture and the potential rewards far outweigh the effort involved.  Every day take a few minutes to engage with someone differently.  Ask engaging questions, i.e. what they like best about their job; how did they choose this career path; if they ran the business or department, what one thing would they change?

They get paid to do their jobs. You pay your people good money to do their job, so why isn’t that enough? You shouldn’t need to waste time trying to build up their ego and make them feel good too.  Instead: Countless studies show that very few people are motivated purely by financial compensation. Quit arguing and accept the fact that if you want your people to consistently give their best effort, then accept the fact that the best way to make it happen is to make them feel genuinely valued and appreciated.

I am not the type to go around praising people. If I praise people, they will just get soft and stop trying.  Instead: Replace the word “praise” with “positive feedback”. Studies show that regardless of the industry, top performing teams experience a ratio of 5-1 positive to negative feedback. Do they get positive feedback because they perform well, or do they perform well because they receive positive feedback? Who cares – the result is the same. What have you got to lose by trying it?

I don’t believe that all this psychobabble really matters. Does it matter if people are happy, just as long as the work gets done. Instead: The good news is that you don’t have to believe in it in order for your business reap the benefits of your new behaviours. It may feel (and actually be) false at first, but keep exercising your new skill until it becomes natural.  Research clearly demonstrates the relationship between recognition, job satisfaction and performance.

The implication of all of this for you as a leader is that you need to be prepared to express your appreciation when it is deserved and justified, even if that means delegating some of your current responsibilities to others in order to free up the time. Consider looking for interesting and creative ways to express your appreciation. Here are some simple things to try, I encourage you to express your appreciation in your own way. As long as it is prompt and authentic, there really is no wrong way.

Send a hand written noteA verbal thank you is good but there is nothing quite like a hand written note to show someone that you notice and appreciate their efforts.  Keep it specific and try to include the impact that they have had on those around them or the company in general.  An email or a text may not have the same impact but at least demonstrates your willingness to take time and effort to show your appreciation.

Reward them with a small giftIt could be a box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, cinema tickets, a coffee shop gift card or even a voucher for dinner out. A thoughtful gift demonstrates to them (and to their peers) that you know them and appreciate their efforts.

Public recognitionIt costs nothing to be recognised in a team briefing or in the company newsletter, but often this type of appreciation can be more meaningful than monetary rewards. Public recognition is also a powerful motivator for others who see the benefits of overachieving.

However you go about expressing your appreciation, do it immediately, do it frequently, make it personal and be sincere.

Thank you for reading and please share this post with others who you think may find it helpful.

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This is an extract from the LeaderFocus App for the iPad available on iTunes.  To learn more and to download the LeaderFocus App click on the icon.  Keith Barnwell is a leadership development specialist and executive coach at It’s All About Leadership