Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Building a Culture of Appreciation

Guest post by Paul White:

Great leaders understand the value of showing appreciation to those whom they are leading.  They realize, by building a culture where all team members feel valued and actively support one another, the goals of the organization will be reached more efficiently and not at the expense of wearing out all who are involved.
Misguided leaders believe supporting and encouraging employees is a waste of time.  As a result, they wind up spending a lot of time and energy replacing key team members and trying to resolve innumerable petty conflicts and complaints which siphon off resources needed to accomplish their goals.

The Need
Many, many workplaces (or departments) are characterized by disrespect, a lack of trust, cynicism, apathy, condescension, gossiping, and an overall negativism – which lead to low productivity.  Why is there such a theme of negativity and despair in most workplaces?  Because people want to be appreciated for what they do at work.  But, unfortunately, most people don’t feel appreciated at work. And the evidence is almost overwhelming. 

Sixty-five percent of employees report they have not received any recognition or appreciation for a job well done in the past 12 months.  Job satisfaction ratings continue to be low and Gallup reports only 30% of employees are truly engaged in their work.  Some polls show that over 80% of employees report being bored at work.  Of those who leave their employment voluntarily, 79% report one of the primary reasons they leave is because they don’t feel appreciated (and they rarely leave just for more money.)  Conversely, a global survey of over 200,000 employees found that the #1 reason employees enjoy their work is when they feel appreciated for what they do.
The False Knight in Shining Armor

Employee recognition programs were supposed to be the knight that saves the day.  And these programs have proliferated to the point that HR firms report that between 85–90 percent of all businesses have some form of employee recognition program.

Good reasons exist for the focus on employee recognition. In the early days of recognition, employees were rewarded for work well done and for reaching established, measurable goals. Problems developed, however, when higher-level managers saw the benefits (in terms of profitability) to the company, and they began to create more and more ways to incentivize (and recognize) employees to “do more.” This essentially became a classic example of the belief that “if ‘some’ is good, ‘more’ should be better, and ‘a lot’ should be great!

The result is that the many employee recognition programs have been developed in ways that make recognition empty and meaningless. They have become mechanical, impersonal, generic and viewed as inauthentic. The three most common responses I hear when I talk to employees about their employee recognition program are apathy (“Yea, I guess we do. I don’t go any more”), sarcasm (“What a joke! Everyone gets the same certificate and gift card”) and cynicism (“They don’t give a rip about us – it is all to make them look good.”)
Authentic Appreciation

Fortunately, an alternative exists for leaders – learning how to communicate authentic appreciation to your team members in ways that meaningful and viewed as being genuine.  We have found the following key components to authentic appreciation:

Appreciation focuses on performance plus the character qualities of the team member and their intrinsic value as a person. As a result, team members can be valued and receive appreciation even when they don't perform well. (Anyone else made a mistake lately?)
Appreciation has dual objectives: to improve performance but also to support and encourage the person.   Team members often need a word or action of encouragement especially when they aren't performing at their best because of other issues going on in their lives.

The goal of appreciation is what is good for the company and what is good for the person. If a colleague communicates authentic appreciation it is based in a foundational concern for the individual (which may mean helping them find a position that is a better match for them than their current role.)
Appreciation requires more than behavior, it requires "heart attitude". This is really the difficult part of appreciation - it has to be genuine and from the heart. You can't fake it.

Appreciation can be communicated in any direction. One of the exciting lessons I've learned is that colleagues want to know how to encourage and support one another. Appreciation can be expressed from anyone to anyone else in the organization.
Building a Culture Isn’t Easy

Developing new behaviors for ourselves is clearly possible (although not always easy), and creating new ways of relating between colleagues can also be done (again, often with time and concerted effort).  Building a new culture, however, takes a dramatically higher level of vision, commitment and duration.  But it can be (and is being) done!
Here are the key components for changing a workplace culture:

 - Share the vision of where you want to go and the end result desired;

 - Communicate the foundational principles of the culture you want to become;

 - Repeat the information multiple times, in multiple places, in multiple ways;

 - Provide the resources needed (information, tools, time) to implement the concepts;

 - Give practical action steps individuals can take and the opportunity to practice

 - Create and use visual / graphic reminders and short symbolic sayings as reminders;

 - Structure activities into existing individual and group processes;

 - Celebrate your new values and priorities - if possible, incorporate food and music;

 - Set boundaries on your priorities, which will require saying ‘no’ to other good things.

Wise leaders will accept that it takes time to change a culture – both a commitment of daily and weekly time, but also continuing to work on the goal over a period of time.  Those leaders who remain committed to the goal then will experience the incredible benefits of their perseverance – a vibrant, functional and positive workplace!

Paul White, Ph.D. is a psychologist and consultant who ‘makes work relationships work’.  He is the author of The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation and co-author of the best-selling The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. About The Vibrant Workplace: Any workplace can be healthy. It just takes knowledge of the issues and skills to navigate them, which is exactly what this book provides. Readers will be equipped to successfully overhaul their workplace environment and infuse it with authentic appreciation.

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