Banish Hunger in the Workplace with Specific Appreciation

One thing about the workplace never changes: employees hunger for recognition and supervisors thirst for productivity. When the two are connected, you have the ingredients for a veritable feast of on-the-job satisfaction for people on both sides of the table.

I was startled the other day by research showing that in national surveys every decade since 1946, Americans have rated an appreciative word from the boss as one of the top five payoffs of employment. Think about it: leaving aside pay and benefits, for 60 years almost no other form of acknowledgement has stoked employee satisfaction as consistently or as powerfully as positive recognition.

Here’s another remarkable finding. In survey after survey, workers report that they do receive recognition, but usually only when they make mistakes. Workers say managers zero in on errors—early, often and at length.

Frustrated managers say they make a point of thanking workers, but it never seems to be enough. “If they spent as much time working as they do complaining, productivity would go through the roof.”

So what’s the recipe to satisfy the appetite of both parties?

The answer, in a word, is SAY! That’s shorthand for Specific Appreciation for You, a 60-second tool I have developed for giving someone earned praise and acknowledgement. To use it, you SAY!:

“This is exactly what you did that I appreciate”;

“Here is where your effort fits in”; and

“This is why it matters.”

SAY! highlights the link between a person’s job and their performance and the vital difference that both make to the organization. SAY! also underscores the meaning and value of what people do, encouraging them to excel.

The manager who nourishes employees with appreciation like this will be served up greater productivity in return. Workers who acknowledge their boss using the SAY! technique can count on a diet of reciprocal meaningful recognition.

Unlike generic praise such as “thanks” or “good job”, SAY! produces a lasting positive impact because it goes into detail about praiseworthy performance. A broad and vague “attaboy” may be regarded as insincere, but there’s no doubting that recognition delivered through SAY! is meaningful and genuine.

SAY! also works better than negative feedback largely due to the Law of Attraction which says you get what you measure. By measuring for mistakes, you get more mistakes, whether you are a manager looking for them in the work done by your staff or a worker desperately trying to avoid them. If, instead, you measure for desirable behaviors or results to appreciate, those are what get repeated.

It is rare that something is a complete success or an utter failure. If, however, we look for praiseworthy particulars, progress is identified and we feel good about it. Even when our overall performance falls short, we can be motivated by focusing on progress, which is easier to build on than mistakes.

Productive feedback is neither a positive pat on the back nor is it a negative whack on the side of the head. Its purpose is growth. Therefore…

to move from appreciate to motivate—


That way, everyone at the table gets his just deserts.

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