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!