The Importance of Appreciation


I heard my friend’s voice over the phone line crack as she told me the two words that almost brought this strong, professional woman to tears in front of a group of power players.  “Thank you.” she said in amazement. “My boss actually thanked me for all my work and let everyone know it was me.” We have one of those friendships that goes back and she knew I would understand the power of that moment.

Very early on in my career I had a boss turned mentor reveal a very telling characteristic of me during a review.  I had been busting my butt to get my next “level” at a large corporation.  For a number of internal political reasons that wasn’t going to happen even though I had exceeded all the criteria.  The solution was going to be to pay me at that level but not actually “give” me the level.  Fortunately, he was a man of integrity who called the silly shenanigans out and used the moment to teach me about myself.  “Look, it Karolyn.  Here’s what I know about you.  You aren’t motivated like other people.  Other people care about the money, but I bet if you had to choose you would take the recognition over the money.”  I made a smart Aleck remark about wanting the money – I was early in my career and needed the money after all – but then I conceded.  He was right! So what was wrong with me?

Apparently nothing. According to a 2008 Global Recognition Study – appreciation changes everything. This compelling global study revealed appreciating great work accelerates engagement significantly. Across cultures. Across industries. Across the world.

Why? Because appreciation is more than just saying thanks, it is acknowledgement and validation of a person’s worth.  It’s taking that moment to value their contribution and recognizing what they bring.  According to this study it also builds trust and trust is another major factor in engagement. So much so that the study showed a 35% to 65% difference in engagement between low trust and high trust companies without appreciation. The real surprise is that adding appreciation boosts engagement in low trust companies up to 63%–nearly the same as companies where trust is high.

As a person in the career trenches for nearly 19 years now I get this. Nothing is more disheartening than to learn your peers are bashing your contribution – whether it is justified or not.  Multiply that ten fold if you find out it is your boss or the leadership in your organization.  As one friend  pointed out, “I’m not sure what’s worse. The critical comments or no comments at all but people taking credit for the work they are so ‘dismissive’ of.” Both show a huge lack of respect and appreciation but I do know that critical comments KILL, and I do mean KILL, morale.  Constructive comments BUILD because at their heart they are appreciating the effort that went into the work, taking a moment to appreciate the person, and professionally and sensitively wanting to make it better.

There is no more difficult industry than marketing for this – everyone has an opinion and everyone believes they are an expert. I’ve learned that one layout or design can be both loved and hated within the same company and even on the same team with the same goals.  “I love this design! It’s clean, fresh, simple and to the point.” Can be met with “I hate this design.  It’s too simple, boring, and has no pizzaz.”   A better way to approach this is with “Tell me your thoughts here?” or “I have some ideas about this, can I share them with you?”

I am unapologetically known for my enthusiastic cheerleading of my teams.  It comes naturally to me and the reason is because I have tasted first hand the opposite and refuse anyone on my watch to experience that sort of negativity.  That and when I see the people I work with slogging it out in the evenings and giving up weekends I can’t help be impressed.  Sometimes it rubs employees on other teams the wrong way who don’t have leaders doing that for them.  “Why do THEY get all the praise? Aren’t we important?”  I’ve been there to and let me tell you it sucks.  In fact, the reason I went to work for the boss who revealed my motivation to me was because I saw him in action praising his team.  Who doesn’t want to be around that?

Back to my friend, in that moment I was happy for her and frustrated for myself.  I was coming out of a particularly tiring stretch.  I had been sacrificing my evenings and weekends for weeks that turned to months and months that turned to more than a year.  Only to be criticized and judged every step of the way. The reasons were many and complicated and fortunately my mentors and support team kept providing me my true north.  When my work was criticized I never dismissed the comments but rather took it to this group and said “Can you take a look at this and tell me what you think?” Sometimes I made slight tweaks but often the validation I received gave me the motivation to tackle the nay sayers and negative Nelly’s in my present circumstance.

My one friend pointed out “Appreciation is appreciation.” Meaning for all the work I was doing the team I was surrounded by would have the same level of appreciation for my contribution whether I was killing myself or not.  In other words – they just would not.

It makes me smile now as I think back on the various teams, leaders, and staff over the years. An interesting pattern has emerged.  It’s not surprising really, but here it is (at least in my life anyway).  Those people who lack appreciation, talk out of two sides of their mouth, and are abundant with the critical comments – even years later – are often still miserable.  They don’t exude joy.  They are still griping and complaining. For many, they haven’t really progressed much beyond where they were when I met them, and even if they have, they aren’t any happier about their successes.

It’s sad, really – but, oh the difference in those who express appreciation.  Returning and seeing them after an absence of 10 years and I find they are filled with a greater sense of calm, peace, and pure joy.  Many have leaped ahead of the competition and are now overseeing entire divisions of companies, or have achieved what seem to be truly remarkable results in a short amount of time.  It’s not because they use “saying thanks” as a way to get ahead because people see through that bologne.  No, it’s because they truly appreciate people and life.  They are engaged with everything around them and as the study reveals – that changes everything!





Stepping Into Your Next Big Dream


My girlfriend burst out laughing over lunch when I told her an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote when I was 18.  It said, “Lord, thank you for my new job at Suzy Shier, it’s my dream job.”  At that time and point in my life it really was my dream job.  I’d been slugging away at three jobs – all in the food industry.  This would be the first job that when I finished my shift I wouldn’t smell like food. I could actually go straight from work to hang out with friends without having to shower.

So, it was a dream.

Fast forward 20 years, and my life has taken me on the journey of a lifetime.  I thought I would be a missionary and head to Africa.  Instead, I have spent the last 20 years working in the corporate world.  I’ve landed a few roles that were also “dream jobs” for me for different reasons –  more responsibility, trying something new, or working with people that I knew would inspire me.

In all cases,every time I’ve stepped into the next stage of my life there has been one thing in common. A step of faith.  My favourite book that I have given to many is called “The Dream Giver“.  In it, a man named Ordinary leaves the Land of Familiar in pursuit of his “Big Dream”.  It is that first step out of the Land of Familiar that is always the scariest. 

Watching a movie unfold with a person chasing their dream is always inspiring but it never gives the viewer the full impact of their choices.  When you do something new, something totally different you are actively choosing to leave your comfort zone – often to work with people you don’t know, doing something in a different place – with nothing but “hope” on your side that it will work out.

It’s not always been a smooth ride.  I’ve made that big step and ended up meeting the most amazing people.  One of those people is now best friend and she refers to the season and team we worked on as “Camelot”.  Every day we worked with people we really loved, who inspired us, and it didn’t feel like work. I’ve had that happen more than once, but I’ve also experienced the opposite.  So is it worth it?

The answer is simply yes and for this one reason.  What has driven me, and what I hope will drive you is this single thought. “What if…” I never want to look back and say “If only…”  The journey may not be smooth, it may even be rough, but you will be stronger for what you experience. 

So go on, take that leap of faith, and step into your next big dream.

When national tragedy strikes, how does it impact the workplace?

Like most people I`ve been riveted to the news tonight trying to make sense of a senseless act at the Boston marathon.  I know of three people from my region who were in attendance and gratefully all are safe.  The incident and the ensuing panic are eerily reminiscent of 9-11.  We all remember where we were when that happened as we sat helpless watching the news. Most people learn of such tragedies while still at work.

When you`re a world away it is easy to feel disconnected, but it is important for managers to understand that national tragedies do have an impact on their staff. Professionals may feel a level of anxiety in returning to their offices after witnessing the repeated images of something horrific happening. At a basic level, tragic events can cause all of us to question our priorities.  Suddenly, that pressing deadline can feel less important when you are considering your own mortality. 

So how does one ensure that productivity continues while at the same time providing a warm and safe environment for your employees? It is important to remember that in many cases employees spend just as much (if not more) time in their workplace environments than in their home.  Workplaces can be a place of safety and an important element in helping people to regain a healthy normal outlook on life. 

Susan Healthfield, provides 11 tips for employers on how to many the workplace when tragedy strikes that are excellent especially for those who are directly impacted.

For those of us who are only observing from a distance, allowing meaningful discussion is important. Creating a moment of silence or working together to make a donation as a group to help can be activities that assist your team during this time.

Take care.  Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by the events at the Boston Marathon.

Women make better leaders? Careful….

by Karolyn Hart

More and more I’m reading studies and research that are making the bold statements that “women make better leaders than men”.  As a woman who is also a leader most would assume I would deliver an enthusiastic response and get on the band wagon.  After all, a study recently published by the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, surveyed 600 Board of Directors, and concluded that women make better corporate leaders than men. Who can argue with such a prestigious firm interviewing successful people? Facts are facts right? Research is never wrong, correct? Except, there are now studies being conducted on studies that at the time were touted as accurate and in fact were wrong.

According to this recent study, women are more inquisitive than men and more cooperative when it comes to consider competing interests.  Is it just me, or is anyone else offended on behalf of men? To me, these are sweeping statements that shows we’ve learned absolutely nothing about diversity and how it interplays between the sexes.  I can quickly call to mind a number of leaders who are male, as well as female leaders, who are all equally inquisitive.  I can also call to mind both men and women who are equally adept at managing conflict resolution with competing interests and just as many who are not.

In the last 50 years we women fought to be seen as equals and while I admit that I believe we are still behind the eight ball when it comes to the glass ceiling – I am disheartened at the latest movement that is about diminishing the contribution of men.  I would think, that we women, would understand best that it is not about superiority but about equality. True equality.

Now I do believe that if there is an all male board and a female is brought to the table, that it provides a competitive advantage.  Not because the woman sitting at the table is somehow superior, but that men and women when equally represented and united to work together are far more competitive than when they are unbalanced.  Alternatively, I also believe that an all female board would not perform nearly as effectively as they would if they were to invite a male perspective to the table.

I would love these studies to consider the option of united working approaches and how they interplay. Does having equality at the table create a competitive advantage? These over-simplified statements that “girls are better than boys” seem unsophisticated and raise more questions than answers for me.

Imagine if these studies went beyond the battles of the sexes – what would happen if we also chose to learn about how extending equality into our boards (including race, age and sex) impacts competitiveness. Imagine if progressive Boards actually discovered that creating a “youth” board position created a competitive advantage because it provided a mechanism for the company to stay in touch with the thoughts of a generation they have nothing in common with? Would that be a competitive advantage I wonder?

It is true that we women leaders are still behind in many areas, but as we move forward let’s ensure that in our quest for equality that we do not inadvertently end up doing to men that which was once done to us.  Equality is not about superiority.  It is about respecting the differences and understanding that we are better together.

Have we learned nothing from the guys?

Imageby Karolyn Hart

I spent the majority of my career working in largely male-dominated industries. Back in the 90’s when I started my career “girls” just weren’t interested in technology and they REALLY weren’t interested in doing technology for the financial services industry.  As a result, I was trained by guys, coached by men, and mentored by gentlemen. They really taught me “What Every Professional Women Should Know” and I am greatly appreciative.

Recently, I’ve been following a number of authors from Forbes and Inc. who are discussing women in leadership.  Interestingly, one of the authors (a man if you’re interested) declared that one of the 2013 trends is the “rise of women” and that now everyone accepts that women are just “better” Apparently, we are better at leadership, and communications, and pretty much everything else.

Really? Oh brother.

The sentiment is being echoed all over the internet. Do a google search and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Here’s the thing…have we learned nothing?  While I appreciate the fact that women are being recognized for their abilities we cannot do it at the detriment of men.  Extremes produce extremes and I would hope that we’re more enlightened than these statements.

The fact is that men and women are different.  It’s not about “better”.  We’ve spent generations fighting for women to be seen as equal, but forcing men into the “weaker sex” makes us no better than those arrogant beasts in the 1950’s that wouldn’t let married women work.  Thank you IBM for leading the way!

Now this is not going to be poltically correct, and I also realize I’m biased because I spent most of my career working with men, but if I had to choose I would work with men.  There is something to be said for being focused. In fact, research shows that only about 5% of people multi-task effectively, so it’s complete hogwash to claim that we women do this more effectively in the workplace. I also appreciate how men are direct, usually have less emotional drama, and are results oriented.  It makes the work place much easier to navigate when you don’t have to worry about “who likes who” etc. What happens without that drama? Well, it gets filled with work – and I like that. I like it alot.

Now that the research is showing the world just how great we women are, how about we not repeat the same mistake of making gender-biased assumptions? How about we realize that there is beauty in the complexity of our differences?   Imagine a world in the future where we take the lessons from the past instead of arrogantly demanding our turn at the wheel. Why not simply move forward in confidence into a future where we have learned that a person’s ability is not predetermined by their race, sex, or the religion they practice.

It’s black history month and Rev. King’s “I have a dream” speech may be resonating with me right now as a result, but there’s something to be said that our future is better united together then repeating the mistakes of the past.

At the end of the day, I may prefer to work with men if given the choice, but I also want the voice of the opposite sex at the table during those conversations because I know it will make whatever is being worked on stronger – and that was always the point. Equality brings strength so let’s be sure to not lose it in our future.

The Secret of Social Media Success

by Karolyn Hart

Once upon a time there was a world that allowed advertisers the ability to craft a message, develop a brand, deliver it in one of three mediums (radio, print, tv) and absolutely influence the consumer decision.  In fact, so simple was the world, that an agency could actually pitch an entire campaign to that brand, up front, and win their portfolio on that one pitch.  For today’s marketers that idea is laughable and history.  That world dissipated with the arrival of the internet and the world has never been the same since.

Today, to the dismay of some advertisers still living in the past, the consumer is in complete control of their brand.  The wise brand manager now understands that consumers can make or break a brand based on the virility of the message they are sending.

I’ve spent the last week reviewing various case studies on social media, reading the latest online trends, and searching for the “key” that will allow me to really hit my marketing plans out of the park this year – and I believe I’ve found the magic key.  Ready for it? It’s either very simple or complex depending on how you view it.  Here it is…


That’s it.  If you take a look at the brands or things that have had the most exposure and success over the last several years the one common theme is the experience was completely authentic.  Whether it was young Justine Bieber strumming a guitar in downtown Stratford, the Harvard baseball team dancing in a van while travelling, or the entire world weighing in on Destiny’s Child performance at the Superbowl.  In each case, authenticity rules supreme.

Now, for the brands that are honest this is absolutely fantastic news.  If the product they have is superior, and they can authentically brag about what they do and how they do it – then the sky is the limit.  The challenge is for those brands who don’t know how to articulate their unique differentiator or why they really are better than competition (because we know this is the reality in business).

All marketers understand that a brand is no longer formed on the advertisers claiming something, but rather the messaging simply resonates the truth of what they are offering.

For Christmas this year my brother and his wife created their own brand of seasoning for the family and they jokingly branded it “That’s not so bad!”  As he put it, it’s not worth of being called “Helluva a good thing” but it’s useable.  Their sense of humour about the product they created actually made us want to use it.  It ends up that “That’s not so bad!” is actually pretty good and we’ve been using it on everything.

The lesson in this story is in the authenticity.  Don’t be afraid to embrace your humour, who you are, and be realistic about what you have to offer.  You may just end up with something really great for your marketing!

My Swedish Apprenticeship in Canada (CBC’s Generation Jobless)


by Karolyn Hart

CBC recently produced a great documentary called “Generation Jobless“. It was brought to me by a highly educated millennial in my life who has been on their own painful journey of being under-employed.  It touches on all the major workforce issues that have been on my radar for some time now.

I’ve always known that my career path was unusual.  I originally left home to attend school with the desire of becoming a missionary abroad.  I ended up with a professional career, and an eclectic skill set that has allowed me the flexibility to reinvent myself on more than one occasion – and it all started with a company’s decision to invest in me.

I’ve always known that my story was unique.  It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time in Waterloo, Ontario where the large Fortune 500 companies weren’t demanding computer science degrees in young students from their local university in order to get work in IT.  Yet, back in the 1990’s this was the case, and fortunately for me, resulted in my unexpected professional career.

I started my career stuffing envelopes in one of those large Fortune 500 companies and a series of events later I found myself taking an assessment and qualifying to work in IT – specifically tech support.  I remember the manager at the time outwardly expressing their pleasure that I had “not” taken any computer science because it won’t only mean they would have to “re-teach me everything”. The legacy systems I would be supporting required custom training and it would be easier for me to learn with no preconceived notions.

It was in every sense a win-win situation.  The company heavily invested in my training which included grueling 8-hour days in the presence of trainers, followed by heavy reading at night.  A few short months later, however, I was taking my first support calls under the watchful eye of a supervisor.  It was a win-win situation.

The investment from the company provided them with a trained employee that was able to produce for them exactly what they needed.  On my side, I was rewarded with a paying career and my student debt from religious studies was significantly reduced. (Can you say “divine intervention”?)

I always felt blessed for my journey but in Sweden my experience is the norm.  It is also why, according to the documentary produced by CBC, that their youth unemployment sits at 2.8%.  Here in Canada, it appears that today’s employers would consider the idea of investing in an employee with training and on the job experience gratuitous.

What the company understood that hired me, that today’s employers MUST understand, is the return on investment received for their initial up front investment.  At no point did that employer ever fear about not being able to have adequate resources to meet their goals.  They were in a constant state of preparedness and able to beat out competition who struggled to find the talent.

In today’s world, company’s who take on the Swedish Apprenticeship approach here in Canada will likely find themselves at the top.  While their competition has to pass up work due to a lack of workforce, they will be reaping the financial benefits of being able to grow and expand.