Did you know that people who feel valued and appreciated will literally spend their time trying to figure out how to make your organization better? Pretty crazy, huh? Given how most leaders act, this is apparently a revolutionary thought. When confronted with this idea, most leaders nod enthusiastically in agreement. “Well, of course,” they will say. I have spent a great deal of time over the past 20 years working with organizations and leaders, and it never ceases to surprise me how often these words are at odds with the behavior I observe.
I have written often about purposefully creating a culture that favors praise over punishment. A culture that celebrates the contributions people make rather than focusing on their shortcomings. A culture that abolishes the idea that “no news is good news,” and where feedback is typically either negative or neutral. Expressing appreciation, valuing the contributions of people and actively seeking out people who do things right is the easiest way to build active engagement among your people and reduce the dreaded “active disengagement.” And get this — it is simple to do. I mean simple as in saying “hello” in the morning, talking about the weather or getting coffee — that kind of simple.
The word engagement is bandied about a lot. To me, it is a pretty simple concept. I define engagement as when people are proactively working to identify problems in your organization, develop and deploy solutions, and innovate new and better products, services and processes. That’s pretty much it. If everyone in your organization were doing this every day, you’d probably be successful. Period.
So let’s do a thought experiment: Suppose I created an engagement machine. And when you purchased and installed my engagement machine, it would, 100 percent of the time, increase engagement, as we’ve defined it, by 500 percent in your organization. How much would that machine be worth to you? $100,000? $1 million? $1 billion? Depending on how much cash you have lying around and how big your business is, it would be worth every penny.
Well, I actually have an engagement machine. And it literally costs nothing. All you have to do is be a good leader. And one of the most powerful attributes of being a good leader is to actively seek out people doing things right, actively praise them, reward them, help them accomplish their hopes and dreams, and work to help them be the best they can be. And finally, demand a culture that acts like this everyday.
When I do this thought experiment with leaders, most react with a smirk. Most leaders are highly interested in the outcomes, but not so much in the methodology. Many leaders would rather shell out a million bucks to install the mythical engagement machine rather than change the behavior that would produce the same results.
Why would this be? Being a leader who prioritizes valuing and appreciating people is ridiculously simple. But maybe some leaders don’t believe they have the competence or capacity? In that case, here is a basic primer for those who may be struggling:
“Thank you.” Most effectively used when someone does something that positively contributes to the success of the organization in any way. It could be technical, organizational, operational or cultural. If someone does something that positively contributes to the success of the organization, the appropriate response is, “Thank you.”
“You are a valuable member of our team.” This phrase is one step up in complexity from “thank you.” It is most effectively used when someone consistently does their job. To be clear, this phrase need not be reserved for those who do incredible things. People who show up and do their jobs day in and day out are valuable too. They do most of the working, living and breathing in your organization, and you couldn’t function without them. They are valuable. And you should let them know it.
“Wow, way to go!” This phrase can be most effectively used when someone goes above and beyond expectations. Be on the lookout for when this happens and never, ever fail to acknowledge it.
“Flex your leadership style.” This one is in the advanced section and isn’t a phrase, but rather a concept. People are good at different things, most of them valuable in different ways. But they are nonetheless valuable. Some people are good at organization, others are good at thinking up new ideas, and still others are good at finding flaws and coming up with ways to fix them. Your job as a leader is to see the different ways people add value and to reward the unique gifts they bring to your organization. The previously mentioned “thank you” is a good place to start.
These phrases and concepts are simple to deploy and cost you nothing. Sure, you may have to retrain how you think about your organization and how you act toward your people. You may even have to build some process and accountability mechanisms to ensure you and the other leaders in your organization do it well and effectively. But given the amount of effort we put into ensuring excellence in our operational processes, this shouldn’t be too terribly difficult. My experience with leaders is that they are very good at solving problems given the proper motivation. Put your mind and the mind of your organization into solving this problem, and I’m sure you will figure it out. In fact, recognizing that you do not have a culture of value and appreciation is the first step in solving the problem. A problem well stated is, after all, 90 percent solved.
This is a small excerpt from my coming book, “The Engagement Machine.” If you’d like to know and read
more, it will only cost you $1 million. It should be out on Amazon soon.
- 5 Forces Shaping the Future of HR
- Why ‘Leaders Eat Last’
- Prediction: Half of Fortune 500 CEOs will be women before 2030
- The kids are alright
- Build commitment to change through high-involvement change leadership
- How to protect your learning budget amid current uncertainty
- Video: How can leaders better support Black employees in the workplace?