Compliments Of The Boss

When telling people what you value about them and their work, be specific. Then get ready for greater commitment and performance that you’ll really appreciate!

Your company’s annual picnic has just ended. You’ve mingled cordially with every member of your staff. You’ve conscientiously recognized their tireless work and unflagging dedication. You’ve thanked them all. And you’ll be rewarded, as everyone works harder, better and more happily and willingly than ever.

Scoffing at this scenario? Don’t. The fact is, employees will respond readily to recognition with higher commitment and performance – but your appreciation must be specific, not generic.

To understand why specific appreciation is management’s magic elixir, think about the last time a supermarket cashier handed you change and the line, “Have a nice day!” Did you sense serious recognition that your purchases help put food on the cashier’s table, as well as your own? Of course not. Now consider how you would react if you had been told, “I see you here every Saturday morning, and I appreciate it that you prefer our store and selection and keep coming back.” You’d know your value as a customer had been noticed, and you’d be inclined to be an even more loyal shopper in the future.

Similarly, showing specific appreciation is essential to getting results done through employees. This is underscored time and again and all across the country by workplace opinion surveys.

A poll in 2000 by the non-profit San Diego Employers Association found employees rated feeling involved with and valued by their organizations as more motivating than higher pay, the latest work/life benefits or shorter work hours. In 19 surveys conducted in the Northeast in 2004, recognition of their good performance was one of the five factors employees said mattered the most in reinforcing their work commitment. And by contrast, 83 percent of a nationwide sample of workers recently told Gallup pollsters that their productivity is low and their loyalty to their employers is questionable because they feel they aren’t receiving the explicit appreciation they deserve.

Most managers realize that if hard work and going the extra mile go unmentioned or undervalued, employee morale and commitment can suffer. But don’t make the mistake of giving broad-brush compliments or expressions of thanks such as “Great job!”, “Terrific report!”, “You really pull your weight around here,” or “Nice outfit.” At best, this is “drive-by” appreciation. And if it’s perceived as a meaningless toss-off (and it can be), employees may see you as hypocritical and eventually turn cynical or even resentful.

To really show that you value and respect employees, first take the time and thought to identify what it is in particular that pleases you about their attitude, performance or contributions. Then demonstrate that you recognize their unique significance by being specific about the worthwhile difference that the employee makes in your organization. Here’s how:

  • Look at appreciation in a deeper way. Stumped about exactly what to show someone appreciation for? It may help to think of appreciation in the sense of growing in value or of strengthening a good quality. Ask yourself what employees have done that’s increased the value or usefulness of their work.
  • Keep an appreciation notebook. Record the pluses of employees’ performances. Before giving acknowledgment, review your notes for details you can mention to demonstrate to employees that you’re aware of how they’ve proved themselves in truly distinguishing ways.
  • Acknowledge actions and outcomes, not states of being. A major reason to recognize an employee through specifics is to encourage desirable behavior. “You look nice today!” may set the receptionist aglow, but it’s far more productive to tell her, “I appreciate how you help us favorably impress clients by always dressing in an attractive and professional way.”
  • Tell employees you appreciate them even if they’re “just doing their job.”
    Let’s be honest! If we were appreciated only when we gave 110 percent, almost all of us would go unrecognized almost all of the time. And as a manager, wouldn’t you find it refreshingly noteworthy if the people you lead were engaged in their work “only” 100 percent?

Don’t forget to single out the ways in which your co-managers and your own boss deserve your recognition too, and acknowledge them with full particulars. Because the most gratifying thing about specific appreciation is that the more you express it, the more people will give you cause to show it.