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.

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. 

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

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.

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!

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

an alternative exists for leaders –
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:

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

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.

goal of appreciation is what is good for the company and what is good for the
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.)

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.

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
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.