To some people, we seem to be in an era of indiscriminate recognition and appreciation, one in which it's not unusual to hear a parent say, "Thank you for keeping your shoes on" or exclaim "Good job" every time a child does what is expected of him. Some parents and observers think that so much praise is not good, that it makes motivation completely extrinsic. Maybe every child on the team shouldn't get a trophy for participating; maybe simple participation should not be counted as success.
Or should it? Writer and director Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is just showing up." Maybe he's right. Loyalty, persistence, and reliability are qualities that benefit all members of an organization as well as the organization itself. Showing up - being present in mind as well as body - is a prerequisite to achievement. But most of us probably do not want to be thanked every day for showing up to do our job.
What do we want to be thanked for? For what do we deserve praise and appreciation?
Most of us want to be thanked for the quality time, thought, and creativity we expend to help solve a problem, resolve an issue, innovate a process or product. When we make a great new hire, write an effective document, present a budget request persuasively, we want to be thanked. We want recognition; we want such accomplishments to be appreciated by co-workers and managers and for that appreciation to be shown. Through such recognition we feel valued and validated, our role in the organization or team unique, significant, and needed.
We see that we are making a difference that matters.
But as Michael Vivion, ECG Principal, observes, "Our work lives are mostly a series of small events. Most of us do not reach milestones every day. Instead we work towards them, each step taking us closer." He notes, though, that some days we seem to make no progress at all, but that our efforts on those days are significant. "Often it is daily events, the little victories, that ensure the success of a project. It's good for colleagues and managers to recognize and appreciate those activities. Finding an error in a document, locating an outside expert, connecting seemingly disparate pieces of information - all of these are little victories." Without them, he suggests, milestones would be few and success accidental.
The first step in communicating appreciation is noticing the good performance of others, sometimes a hard thing to do when everyone is busy and everything demands priority status. But slow down enough to notice. Then, voice your sincere appreciation; personalize it: "Thanks for stepping in to answer that question. Your explanation was complete, and the support you gave was persuasive. I appreciate it."
Thank the employee who soothes an angry customer, the colleague who finds a method to shorten a turnaround time, the team members who find solutions to internal difficulties. As you do so, you will start to build a culture in which all members know that their contributions, even the daily small ones, are of value to the organization.