No matter how old you are, no matter how high you climb, everyone likes to receive thanks, no matter the season.
“Big people are just like little people,” said Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and – Finally – Let the Sunshine In. “We all crave appreciation and to feel good about ourselves.”
With Thanksgiving here, it’s a timely message. But unfortunately, it’s one that many managers don’t take to heart beyond the holiday season.
“The main fault with a lot of managers is they think it’s their job to catch people doing things wrong and correcting them,” Patkin said. “To me it’s the exact opposite. You want to spend every day finding things people do right.”
Leaders who develop the ability to make their people feel appreciated inspire higher engagement and performance. When people are just criticized, they’ll do just enough to keep their job. But workers who feel appreciated will go the extra mile, even when that leader criticizes them.
“You’re giving tremendous praise and love when they do things right … and they care a lot more when you have to give them constructive criticism,” Patkin said.
Sending “Love Notes”
Patkin spent 18 years in his family’s auto parts business in Massachusetts, eventually taking over the company before selling it to Advance Auto Parts in 2005. During that time, he developed five ways to show appreciation for his employees:
1. Send “love” notes: Take five minutes a day to hand write thank-you notes to one or two employees.
2. Distribute inspiration: Make it your job to bolster your team’s spirits and share what inspires you.
3. Tell success stories: Tell the company as a whole when someone does something worthy of recognition.
4. Identify stars: Make celebrating team members a regular event through a regular program or newsletter.
5. Make it a family affair: Patkin made a habit of calling employees’ spouses to tell them how great he thought their husband or wife is.
“You want to figure out what means most to each person,” Patkin said. “Some people would rather get a personal note. Others would rather you write a letter to the whole company telling the whole company how great they are.”
Whatever it is, make it a part of leaders’ regular routine by having them put reminders in places where they’ll see them for a couple of months.
“What you focus on happens and if you go to work and your goal is to pick two people that are doing something great and build them up and tell them it really meant a lot to me or … take more time to write an employee newsletter, you will. But if you don’t actually say this is my goal today, the day will end and you’ll say, ‘I blew it again.’”
CLOs: Help Leaders Give Thanks
While saying thanks is all well and good, busy leaders may not be willing to take the time to do it, or even realize the need to do so. That’s where CLOs can help.
“Are [they] cognizant of how much more they can get from their people if they build them up? If they aren’t, they’re not going to focus on it,” Patkin said.
Coming to that realization can be difficult, particularly for men. CLOs can help them see if they’re not doing a good job motivating their people, or see the performance difference that can come from an engaged employee.
“People will tell you that money is the most important reason they’re at the company but it’s not,” Patkin said. “Everyone has to earn a certain amount of money and then it comes down to are you making me feel like a human being, like a valued person, are you making me feel respected? If you’re making me feel like a hero, I’ll do anything.”
According to Patkin, 20 percent of leaders simply won’t get it. Rather than waste time with them, spend time with the people who you can change even if they’re not your high-potential leaders.
Then, help leaders find their comfort level with showing appreciation. That could involve a hug, pat on the back or a personal note. “Some people are really uncomfortable with this stuff, so maybe they need coaching,” he said.
To ensure showing appreciation lasts long beyond the season for giving thanks, make it a part of what leaders do every day. When he managed his business, Patkin set aside time every day to write appreciation letters to employees and wrote a monthly “Manager of the Month” letter.
“It’s not just waiting for the Christmas party and the turkey. It’s letting people know how much you appreciate them all the time. If you’re just hammering people for 11 months and giving them a turkey, they’re going to see that. They don’t want to work with you,” he said.
Mike Prokopeak is editorial director of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at mikep@CLOMedia.com.
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