Employee Appreciation & Gratitude

March 3, 2016

Happy Employee Appreciation Day! It’s now the third month of the new year and if you have not yet recognized the impact and value of your employees, do something about it today.

This annual holiday—celebrated the first Friday in March—is meant to remind companies to thank employees for their hard work and effort throughout the year. It is also meant to strengthen the bond between employer and employee.

Perhaps we need Employee Appreciation Day now more than ever because a recent survey found that 40 percent of employees say they had not been recognized at all in the past year. Recognizing employees is probably the most important step in raising employee engagement because it makes them feel more proud and happy with their jobs.

This is according to a new survey conducted by Globoforce last November. The survey, composed of 828 randomly-selected fully employed persons in the United States (aged 18 or older), had a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.

They also found that two-thirds of workers who were recognized in the last month felt more than twice as engaged at work than those employees who had not been recognized.

This strong correlation between high engagement and recognition means employees who are well-recognized have more drive and determination, better working relationships, improved personal standing and stronger connections to their company.

As I wrote about previously, organizations should give thanks to their employees through a well designed, fully implemented and on-going social recognition program. It’s good for engagement, retention and the bottom-line.

And while cash or gift cards are easy and generally appreciated at least in the short term, they don’t deliver the more important long term results. You can show appreciation to employees in many ways, but be sure it is sincerely presented and meaningful to the individual.

Here are some suggestions:

Be Specific
Rather than simply “great job on that report,” you might say, for example, “I really appreciate that you included the metrics on XYZ in order to emphasize the impact our products will have on the client’s account.”  The more you can tie your praise directly to the individual’s specific contribution, the more impact your appreciation will have.

Consider Giving Time
Perhaps our most precious commodity today is time. When possible, give your employee the gift of taking off the afternoon, a day, or several days to pursue a hobby, spend time with loved ones, or simply to rest and recharge.

Encourage Employees to Appreciate Each Other
Don’t relegate showing appreciation only to the boss. With apps like YouEarnedIt, Bonusly or TINYpulse, you can enable all employees to regularly provide kudos to each other in real time. This will create a more positive and healthy workplace where everyone participates in providing and receiving appreciation.

Express Gratitude
Sometimes it is not the tangible reward that makes us feel appreciated, but the simple verbal or written expression of thanks. And if you tell someone how much you appreciate them, you will likely find that you feel better having done so. That’s because showing gratitude acts like a hug: in the same way you can’t hug someone without receiving a hug in return, expressing gratitude works similarly.

Feelings associated with gratitude impact the dopamine in your brain, which functions as a reward neurotransmitter. Like a drug, experiencing gratitude results in a dopamine hit that makes you feel better.

This gratitude creates positive feelings, good memories, higher self-esteem, and a more relaxed and optimistic mindset. When taken together, these emotions can then create a “pay it forward” and “we’re all in this together” mentality throughout the workplace.

Gratitude makes people feel appreciated, it doesn’t cost anything, and it doesn’t require any special training to implement. All it takes is sincerity and a willingness to show appreciation to others.

Showing appreciation and gratitude for employees creates a better working environment, promotes more engagement and delivers better bottom-line results.


Thoughts of Workplace Empathy on Labor Day

September 7, 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to work along side some carpenters, and their perspective on working with subcontractors made me think about how important empathy can be in the workplace.

Like my father, who was also a carpenter, home builders work along side many subcontractors involved in things like masonry, roofing, plumbing, electricity, insulation, sheetrock, painting, etc.

What I learned from carpenters is that many subcontractors continually complain about the work each other does. Typically it is the work of the previous specialist and how “if only he did it this way” everything would be much better.

This got me thinking about how beneficial it would be if the person doing the mudding and taping spent some time painting over his work. More than likely, the sheetrock specialist would gain insight into how little changes in his work could better accommodate the painter’s needs.

Imagine if the electrician and plumber negotiated on where to drill holes in order to reduce the need for longer wires and pipes. What if installing insulation could be more fully considered when preparing the foundation and framing?

Empathy is the ability to put your self in someone else’s shoes. It is the quality of feeling and understanding another person’s situation in the present moment—their perspectives, emotions, actions (reactions)—and communicating this to the person. You learn what they are feeling, or at least you suspect you know what they are experiencing, and you can communicate that for further discussion or clarification.

Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can help you better appreciate his or her perspective. In the workplace, by knowing the particular concerns of others would enable you to make decisions that help rather than inhibit another’s work.

The empathy in the workplace I’m speaking to requires more than simply doing another person’s job. It also requires inquiry and communication to better understand your coworker’s particular perspective.

Extending empathy could be helpful in virtually any industry. Imagine a cook waiting tables in a restaurant, a software engineer answering technical support calls, the accountant helping to make a sale. In every case, gaining insight into another’s perspective could help us make better choices in the way we do our own work.

It’s not unusual for some organizations to have employees “work the front lines” to stay in touch with customers. Starbucks has new employees—regardless of position—serve as baristas early in their employment to familiarize themselves with the ultimate reason they are in business.

Organizations should consider job shifting or job rotation so coworkers better understand the entire cycle for what the organization does because this could be beneficial in so many ways. If this is not feasible, they should offer opportunities for employees from different perspectives to brainstorm on ways to work together more efficiently.

Finding ways to foster empathy in the workplace can:

  • Create simple changes or alterations in the way everyone does his or her job that could dramatically improve efficiency by reducing time and/or costs for the organization as a whole.
  • Raise employee engagement because each employee can more fully understand and appreciate what the people around him or her actually do in their jobs. This can also increase job satisfaction because initiating changes in the way we do things can be empowering.
  • Better serve customers because organizations that run their operations efficiently can improve customer value. Organizations are also likely to have employees who care about the quality of their work and this is especially obvious to customers.

Appreciating the work our coworkers do can go a long way towards increasing appreciation of others, optimizing productivity and raising overall job satisfaction. Regardless of the work we do, seeking ways to empathize with others in the workplace may help reduce the labor in our work.

Great Managers: Key to Employee Retention

December 18, 2009

During this time of economic recession and double-digit unemployment, it may seem odd to focus on employee retention. But I contend this is exactly the right time to identify and strengthen relationships with great managers because they determine whether your best employees stay or leave the company.

Recent research on employee retention found that people leave managers, not companies. If there is a turnover problem in your company, first look at your managers because managers trump companies. Employees may join a company because of its overall prestige and reputation, but the employee’s relationship with his immediate supervisor determines how long he will stay and how productive he is while there.

Great managers, like great coaches, focus on people first and then on the actual plays. Similarly, a great novelist often begins with characters rather than a plot. And the skill set of managers is not necessarily the same as that of leaders. It is important to look at your managers not simply as leaders in waiting, but recognize the unique managerial gifts and strengths they contribute to the organization as managers.

Organizational consultant and author Warren Bennis said that managers do things right and leaders do the right things. Leaders should be concerned with looking outward and focusing on the future for the organization, while managers should be looking inward and on the immediate details of the daily operations.

In their book “First, Break all the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently,” Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that great managers do the following:

1. Select an employee not only for her unique experience, intelligence and determination, but for her talents. Knowledge and skills are competencies that can be taught, while attitudes and beliefs are talents that are difficult to teach. Talents are recurring patterns of behavior productively applied. And they can have great value to any organization.

2. Set expectations by defining the right outcomes, rather than the right steps. Great managers communicate clearly what is expected of each person in order to accomplish the organization’s goals. Rather than direct each employee on the specific way to do their job, great managers provide freedom and support to the individual to get the job done well and on time.

3. Motivate the employee by focusing on his strengths rather than weaknesses. Great managers often act as coaches by providing clear feedback on what the employee is doing well as well as not so well. The best managers help build confidence by recognizing and utilizing each employee’s unique talents. Simply stated, stress what works and minimize what does not.

4. Develop the person to determine the right job fit and not necessarily the next rung on the corporate ladder. This often runs counter to what most of us think is necessary in many organizations. The fact is many people are not suited for nor do they want to be executives in a company. Great managers determine how to recognize and fully utilize an individual’s unique talents and enable them to be successful wherever they are in the organizational chart.

According to the Gallup Path to Business Performance, sustained increase in shareholder value must begin first by identifying employees’ strengths and second by determining the right fit for them. These steps are then directly followed by hiring great managers and creating engaged employees. Without these first four, there can be no loyal customers, sustained growth, real profit increase and, finally, stock increase.

The key to excellent performance then is to first find the best match between an employee’s talents and role. Identify and cultivate those talents so that they may be best put to use in the proper role to meet the organization’s goals and objectives. Finally, make it clear in no uncertain terms what outcomes are expected and let the individual employee determine the specific steps to reach them. In this way, great managers can keep employees fully engaged and help retain the best employees in the organization.

Mark Craemer                                    www.craemerconsulting.com

Effective Workgroups & Jazz

November 6, 2009

The other night a friend and I attended a concert featuring a jazz quartet. I was a bit disappointed with the overall performance, but couldn’t quite put into words why. My friend suggested there was a lack of “dialogue between the musicians.” All of them were technically proficient, he said, but it was as if they were each playing in a separate space with no notion of what the others were doing. The bass player kept an up tempo, but when the tenor saxophonist blew unexpected low notes, the drummer failed to echo back with a similar retort. The interplay lacked any depth because of missed opportunity for a dramatic call and response between the musicians. My friend’s explanation helped me appreciate the difference between a band simply playing a jazz composition and one creating a stirring and memorable performance.

It also made me think about how work groups can function well, but not necessarily thrive. For a workgroup to be especially effective there is also a requirement for dialogue among the individuals. Dialogue in this sense, however, is more than simply talking together. The kind of dialogue I’m suggesting for an effective workgroup requires: 1) the opportunity for a personal check in with each other, 2) open ended questions that expand the conversation, 3) active listening that demonstrates true understanding, 4) brainstorming free from real-time editing, 5) embracing diversity to ensure all voices are heard, 6) resolving conflicts as they arise, and 7) resisting group think even when it is easiest to so.

Think about a time when you were part of a work group that was especially satisfying. I suspect there was something dynamic about the group. I further suspect it was satisfying because you accomplished your goals, overcame challenges, and everyone contributed to the success. More than likely, you were challenged and under stress, but were also stimulated because of the energy from the group.

Like the best jazz ensembles, effective workgroups are dynamic, diverse, and challenging. A leader needs to provide the group with just enough structure to maintain focus without blocking creative thinking. Providing a safe and trusting environment can encourage individuals to play off each other’s ideas and build something greater than solo thinking alone. A certain synergy becomes present when everyone is actively involved and engaged in the work at hand. And this is worth striving for.

All workgroups can be more effective. And it takes a concentrated effort by every member to actively participate in the dialogue to make it satisfying for everyone.

Mark Craemer                                           www.craemerconsulting.com

What is OD?

October 26, 2009

As someone who spent many years working in organizations—both for-profit and not-for-profit—I found the challenges with people far outweighed the challenges with technology. That is, it was the “who” that mattered more than the “how” or “what.” I came to believe that improving the interrelationships between human beings can go a long way towards increasing overall performance as well as better the workplace environment. This is a central reason for why I entered the field of organization development.

Last week here in Seattle I attended the annual OD Network Conference where more than 800 of us gathered to join and learn. It was exciting to be among such legendary OD professionals as Peter Block, Roger Harrison, Barry Oshry, Edgar Schein, Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. It also got me thinking that, as a profession, we’ve been speaking primarily to ourselves rather than to the world at large. From my interactions with potential clients, the definition of organization development as well as its application is not widely understood. OD could certainly use a make-over to better define it in terms of benefits to the organization.

So what exactly is organization development? Quite simply, OD is a planned effort to increase an organization’s effectiveness and health. According to organizational consultant and author Warren Bennis, organization development is a complex strategy intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values and structure of organizations so that they can better adapt to new technologies, markets and challenges. It can involve interventions in the organization’s processes, using behavioral science knowledge as well as organizational reflection, system improvement, planning and self-analysis.

From Kurt Lewin, widely recognized as the father of OD, came the ideas of “group dynamics” and “action research,” which are central to the basic OD process as well as the notion of a collaborative client/consultant relationship. OD is interdisciplinary in nature and draws on sociology, psychology, and theories of motivation, learning and personality. The OD consultant acts as a change agent with expertise in behavioral science and knows how to get people in an organization involved in solving their own problems.

Some specific contemporary examples of organization development efforts are team building, conflict negotiation, leadership development, change management, process improvement and more. These efforts can be implemented through process consulting, coaching, training, facilitation and other methods.

All organizations could benefit from organization development interventions because OD consultants use a systems perspective and help make processes more efficient, increase employee engagement, build better leaders and facilitate sustainable change initiatives. All of these interventions can directly effect the bottom line, but this may not be apparent in the short term.

I believe we OD professionals, both internal and external, could do our profession a great service by better measuring our efforts and then reporting the results more widely. Despite the fact that things such as group dynamics, employee engagement and improved leadership are difficult to measure, we should use both qualitative and quantitative methods to better justify these interventions and report them beyond the usual academic and OD professional communities. Only through this sustained effort will more potential clients be receptive to our work and actively seek it out to better their organizations.

Mark Craemer                               www.craemerconsulting.com

Working Smarter to Increase Productivity

May 26, 2009

Is there a connection between working smarter and greater productivity? How do we actually work smarter anyway, and why don’t we do it all the time instead of when we’re forced to do it?

In spite of the current economy with rampant corporate downsizing, there are signs that most companies will actually improve their productivity in the near term. According to a recent survey, a clear majority say their firms will work smarter and that this will come about through improvements in work processes. These were the conclusions of a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and HR.com who surveyed top executives as well as lower-level managers and supervisors in January 2009.

According to the survey, 86% of respondents said “there will be an increased emphasis on productivity” over the next six months. This greater focus on productivity has already panned out according to numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor, which stated that in the fourth quarter of 2008, productivity in the nonfarm business sector rose 3.2%. It also rose 2.8% for the entire year, which was the highest growth rate since 2004.

So just how do we work smarter? Should all workflow processes and procedures be subject to a rigorous test to find and fix inefficiencies? Are these inefficiencies all that universal and easy to detect? I suspect not and therefore external efficiency experts and consultants should be in high demand. After all, if inefficiencies were easy to detect and correct, these would be taken care of by the people inside the companies.

Half of those surveyed also cited that there will be greater effort and engagement by employees as well as more effective workforce management. Organizations are trying to further engage employees at the same time as they make these work processes more efficient. And one could argue that you can’t have one without the other. If employees feel they are working as efficiently as possible, they very likely will feel more highly engaged in their work. On the other hand, if employees are highly engaged in their work, they may very well find ways to improve—given the opportunity—work process efficiency. It is this symbiotic relationship between engaged employees and the efficient work process that all companies should be seeking.

Working smarter should be more than just choosing to correct an existing inefficient process, but as a new philosophy for approaching each and every workday. For example, working smarter could mean choosing to look at your email inbox only two or three times a day instead of constantly reacting to whatever message zaps your attention from completing the task at hand. You may be in a position to do this with your phone as well. One could also choose to hold or attend meetings only when they are conducted in a manner that is highly productive. For those who bring their laptops to meeting to get other things done at the same time, they might question the widely held belief that multi-tasking really is more efficient than fully focusing your attention on one thing at a time.

For a sustained rise in productivity, working smarter must become more than just a convenient phrase for leaders to tell shareholders. Working smarter means organizations must embrace the notion of helping to fully engage their employees and provide them with the opportunity to influence their work processes. The resistance to change is very powerful, however, so it will take strong leadership and commitment to see that these improvements are driven throughout the organization and remain in place.

Mark Craemer                               www.craemerconsulting.com