Is appreciation the most underappreciated tool in your toolkit?

In today’s times when budgets are tight, promotions are slow and the amount of new product development opportunities rare, it is not easy to motivate your team members. As a project manager, you don’t have so many tools or resources at your disposal to engage your team members in a meaningful dialog to enhance their motivation, intrinsically or extrinisically. Really?

Most people (and people managers) believe you can’t really motivate your team members if you don’t give them obscene salary hikes every year, award annual bonuses that put shamed Wall St bankers to shame, promote them every second year and throw lavish parties every month! Sadly, they can’t be any further from truth. Most of us don’t realize (or perhaps, don’t want to realize) that the most effective means to motivate people are two simple things: match people’s assignment to their passions, and appreciate them for their efforts. And none of them require a dime :). Granted that we often can’t match people’s assignment to their passions (though most managers don’t even make a reasonable attempt and a genuine communication when that can’t be done), in this blog post, I want to talk about the second one. To appreciate someone needs no capital budget, no planning, no strategy, no right timing, no resources, no MBA degree, no technical expertize, no PhD in creative writing, no big slogans, no special finesse, no world-class oratory skills, no big-banner problems, no game-changing events, no ‘senior-enough’ title, and most importantly, no approval from anyone! All it needs is an open mind and a geniune will. And who says an appreciation has to be in an email, with a gift voucher, or a memento at the next town hall or limited by some monthly quota on number of appreciations possible? I think the most effective appreciation probably needs no more than 5 minutes (or even less!) of genuine conversation to let the other person know what a sweet job they have done and how you feel about it. Yes, that’s it. If your words are genuine, they could change someone’s life like never before. Read this small story from The Simple Truths of Appreciation, which is a great example of how it changed someone’s life and pretty much set him up for lifelong success!   

My friend, Bob Danzig, has an amazing story. Simple words of appreciation and encouragement changed his life. Bob was in five foster homes during his youth, and said he spent his childhood trying to find someone to love and appreciate him.

When he was nine years old, he had a new social worker. He said after she had done all the paperwork to move him to yet another foster home, she sat him down, looked him directly in the eyes, and said, “Bobby, I want you to always remember these words: YOU ARE WORTHWHILE!”.

Bob says that no one had ever said anything like that to him, and each time they met, she repeated those words. They became an affirmation of appreciation that he heard over and over again in his head.

Bob graduated at sixteen, not because he was smart, he says, but because he got mixed up in the system!

He soon took a job at the Albany New York Times as a copy boy, and his very first boss was a woman named Margaret. After he had worked there about six months, Margaret called him into her office one day and asked him to sit down. He thought for sure he was going to be fired! She looked him right in the eyes and said to him, “I have been the office manager for 15 years – I have been observing you – and I believe YOU ARE FULL OF PROMISE.” Those words, on that day, gave him permission to aspire.

Those two positive messages of appreciation played over and over again in his head and ultimately gave him the courage to be the very best he could be. Sixteen years later he became the Publisher of the Albany New York Times, and seven years after that, he became CEO of Hearst Newspapers, one of the largest newspaper companies in the world; and he credits it all to those simple words of appreciation and love. What a wonderful example of how little gifts of appreciation can make such a difference in a life!

What a powerful and compelling reason to make that small bit of effort to reach out to a fellow human being’s craving for appreciation! I especially liked the words “permission to aspire”. Perhaps every one among us is waiting for someone to give us that permission to aspire that will change us forever, set us free to dream and make us feel so worthwhile. Even if we ourselves haven’t got such ‘permission’ from someone yet, it doesn’t stop us to give such ‘permission’ to others! Like the great Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see”, why not take that initiative today and be the one friend, the one manager, the one co-worder, the one subordinate, and most importantly, the one human being who is the biggest fan, greatest cheerleader and a die-hard supporter of every well-intentioned initiative, every brave effort and every single result, howsoever small it might be. After all, what goes around, comes around!

So, as a manager, have you given the permission to your team members to aspire? Or, is appreciation the most underappreciated tool in your toolkit?

9 thoughts on “Is appreciation the most underappreciated tool in your toolkit?

  1. Anuj Magazine

    @TV: I think you captured the cultural aspect of the 4-response model quite fine. I know in our (Indian) context coaches do think of the 4 factors you listed. But more i think about it, the more i beleive that it somehow does not reflect a too broad thinking.
    At the core, i feel if the coach has the honesty of intent (no Double speak, quoting your other post) in delivering praise and the words reflect that- the people around do get the genuine message. I also feel there is a cultural relevance to the way we respond to work done but with the kind of times we live in today, the cultutral barriers are for sure sinking. The way we can learn from different cultures now is far more than what we were capable of almost a decade back or may be beyond.

  2. Kavash Sharma

    And as the famous Sam Walton said “Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.” Appreciation is a tool definitely and most predominantly missing in todays workspace. Those managers who know to use this tool effectively not only get the best work out of people but also motivates them to do better.

    1. TV Post author

      @Kavash: Well said. Your reference to the appreciation being ‘well-timed’ is especially important – no fun in telling during the annual performance appraisal what a great job someone did last summer!

      Also reminds me of what Mary Kay Ash said – ”There are two things people want more than sex and money — recognition and praise.” I am sure those smart ones among us who have figured this out have built the foundation for a healthy workplace for themselves and for their teams. May their tribe prosper!

  3. Anuj Magazine

    Quite true. Infact, i quite like Ken Blanchard’s thoughts about “responding” to the work that your people do. There are 4 ways in which a coach can respond when the team member does some work-
    1. No response- It means no acknowledgement what-so-ever of the work done.
    2. Negative response- meaning that manager is always on the look out for a mistake and blasts off, if it happens (how-so-ever minor).
    3. Redirection response- meaning that the manager redirects the energies of the people towards the goals when a mistake or failure happens.
    4. Positive response- the manager makes efforts to find the positive things and bestows a genuine appreciation.

    The responses# 1 and 2 above are quite common in today’s work place as you state and infact these responses are easy in a way and for most people it do not require any effort at all. Coaches or Managers can come up with these responses being in theoir comfort zones. In my experience, the no response is sometimes more dangerous than a negative response.
    Most Managers struggle to give responses# 3 and 4. Giving an heart-felt praise or an honest redirection requires guts and courage to leave the typical comfort zone that doesnnt come naturally to many.

    1. TV Post author

      @Anuj: Thanks for sharing this wonderful 4-response ‘model’. As you said, we struggle to utilize #3 and #4 and often resort to #1 and #2, which is a shame. I don’t know if this is a very cultural and ‘Indian’ thing, or there is more to it than meets the eye. Americans are definitely more vocal about responses, even if many people might believe there is more of pep-talk than real feedback. Irrespective, pep-talk is still a great response to motivate someone! Europeans are perhaps little subdued, and Asians or Indians are definitely much more conservative with showering appreciation. Is it that we believe that an extravagent display of appreciation could (a) get to the head of the recepient, or (b) set the expectations that everytime someone does something, it has to be appreciated, or (c) we feel singling out one in the team might not be good for the teamwork, or (d) make it difficult if next time they have to give a tough feedback to that person, or some other reason(s) ? I think we have a lot of (un)learn here 🙂

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Is appreciation the most underappreciated tool in your toolkit? | manage well --

Leave a Reply