“Thank you for saying that"

It was such a simple exchange and yet it left an impression on me. I was sitting in a crowded food court, working on my laptop. It was lunchtime, and there was the usual din of people eating, laughing, shuffling chairs.. Amidst all the office workers, I noticed someone on the maintenance staff wiping down tables after people left, getting them ready for the next group.

When he cleaned the table next to me, I offered my appreciation for what he was doing. He nodded, smiled awkwardly, and kept wiping the table. A few seconds later, he walked by me, leaned in, eyes averted, and quietly said "Thank you for saying that."

I think it was the earnestness in his voice that struck me. It was as if my simple comment was something especially valuable to him, something rare.

Hudson Eats: A local food hall & my sometimes office 

Hudson Eats: A local food hall & my sometimes office 

A simple test (and the worst blog title ever)

Almost two years ago, I wrote a blog post with the odd title of “The Corporate Bathroom Test.” I wanted to describe how exchanges like the one I had in the food court could be part of your Working Out Loud practice, helping you “gradually build a capability and a mindset of deepening relationships through generosity.”

“Some of the most powerful gifts you have to offer - contributions that are universally valued - are recognition and appreciation. The point of this post is that even mundane interactions are opportunities to practice offering these gifts…Each time you do it you gain subtle insights into your motivations and reactions.
Today, as you meet someone you might normally pass by, say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ Be mindful of how that makes you feel. Watch how it makes the other person feel.”

Sparks of joy

Since I wrote that, I've continued practicing offering appreciation to people throughout the day. I’m careful to do it without expectations of a reply, and I try to be mindful that they’re busy and may not be in the mood to talk. (After all, I’ve taken The Generosity Test too.) Usually, it's people I notice working - restaurant workers, landscapers, crossing guards. It's a way of saying “I see you and I appreciate what you're doing.”

A woman serving food at a corporate event whispered, “You are very kind” simply because I thanked her and offered to help her move a table. When I asked a flight attendant how she was doing, she was genuinely surprised at the question. “Thank you for asking,” she said. “That’s very nice of you.” A taxi driver and I had a long talk about his home country of the Dominican Republic, and we shook hands after the ride.

The truth is I’m not especially kind or generous. I just practice paying attention to people around me, putting myself in their shoes for a moment, and offering sincere appreciation. Many people are hungry for such a gift, and in return I get sparks of human connection - even joy - throughout my day. “The Corporate Bathroom Test” is now an additional exercise in Week 2 of the WOL Circle Guides. I hope you’ll try it.

“The more you practice, the more comfortable you become offering small gifts in a variety of circumstances till, over time, it becomes a habit that makes you happier and more effective.”

 

When you want to get promoted

Common goals in working out circles are to be more visible at work and get promoted. And in one circle, a particularly smart and experienced person (I’ll call her Sue) was up for promotion. She knew people who could help her, but she struggled with what contributions to make. So in one of her circle meetings, we put together the list below based on the guided mastery program and the four levels of working out loud. It starts with simple, almost trivial contributions and gradually builds to gifts that take more effort and are worth more. As she offers more valuable gifts to people, she’ll deepen relationships with them.

Getting Started

At our firm, we’re fortunate to have an enterprise social network, so the initial contribution Sue would make is an easy one:

Find senior people in her division - as well as other influencers she likes or respects - and click on a Follow button. 

This one click may move the relationship from “he never heard of me” to “he may have seen my name.” Now updates from these people will appear in Sue’s stream. While all the people she’s following may not be active, some will and that allows her to make a second contribution:

Show gratitude with a Like or a simple “Thank you for posting this. It was very helpful.” 

Even the most senior people I’ve met care about what other people think and value the recognition of employees. Each time Sue clicks a Like button it is a visible affirmation and a small step in deepening the relationship.

Despite how small theses contributions are, they are rarely made. So even these simple gestures can differentiate you.

Connecting

One of the most senior people in Sue’s department was conducting an Ask Me Anything (AMA) at work - an open online discussion. But when I asked Sue, “What was your question?” she looked me blankly.

Again, everyone at every level is looking for appreciation and recognition. These are universal gifts. So here are two, slightly more significant contributions that Sue can make.

Build on something others have said. “Thank you for conducting this AMA. Other firms like ours are doing X. Are we considering doing something similar? If not, why not?”

Credit other people. “I learned a lot from the XYZ town hall today. Great job by the Z team to put together such an inspiring event.”

These kinds of gifts move a relationship from “he’s seen my name” to “we’ve interacted.” Other contributions may spark a discussion or burnish your reputation as someone genuinely interested and informed in what your organization does.

Share articles, presentations, or other research you’ve found useful. 

Share the work of others you admire.

Share your connections.

Share content from your network.

Note that you don’t need an enterprise social network to deliver all these gifts. For example, Sue described how she had met one executive a month ago and had since acted on one of his suggestions. “Did you tell him?” I asked. “No,” she said. Her instinct was to wait for the next time they might meet. Instead, I suggested she craft a short note that showed she listened, was inspired, and acted on what they discussed. The she would close not with “an ask” but with gratitude.

Creating

The majority of people stop at the shallow end of the contribution pool. But deeper relationships come from more meaningful contributions. More meaningful, though, needn’t be scary. You’re simply framing what you’re already doing as a contribution that might help someone else. The reflection involved in doing so helps refine your own learning too, so you benefit even if no one responds.

Here is a short list of possible contributions:

Share your ideas.

Share your projects.

Share your process.

Share your motivations, why you did what you did.

Share your challenges.

Share something you’ve learned.

Sue had worked on a project that improved quality and cut costs. By writing about it in a way that might help others - and being sure to credit the work of others - her post becomes a contribution rather than self-promotion. Often, people will want to learn more about what you shared and that moves the relationship from "we've interacted" to "we've collaborated."

Many people hesitate to create such gifts because they’re unsure who will be interested. But remember the goal. You’re not trying to be popular or garner a lot of Likes. You’re trying to be visible among a particular tribe that does what you do. And the portfolio of contributions you build up over time can be re-gifted many times using a variety of channels.

Becoming a Linchpin

The most advanced level of contribution is building a network that can accomplish something together. That could range from establishing a local interest group for something you care about (Toastmasters, diversity, a social responsibility effort) to a community of practice directly related to your job.

Contribute to or form a purposeful community.

This kind of contribution deepens the relationship further, creating an emotional connection to a shared purpose. You don’t have to create the group to lead it. Leadership of such things is based on contribution as opposed to appointment. Your consistent contributions and the public feedback on them are what’s important.

Taking more control of your career

The book provides more examples on what contributions to make and how to make them. And as more circles form in different companies, I’m working on mapping contributions to specific contexts. How would a retail clerk work out loud? A private wealth manager? An engineer?

For much of my career I was waiting for someone to call my name, to recognize me for my work. And when I was lucky, that happened. But we can all increase the odds - make our own luck - by offering authentic contributions to our networks.

I’m still waiting for them to call my name

I think it started when I was four years old. I remember one day, before I could read, flipping through some illustrated encyclopedia because I liked the pictures. My mother lavished praise on me. Then she mentioned the incident to friends and family members. I was hooked.

From then on, like a trained lab animal, I would tap the “smart kid” bar to get my reward in the form of some kind of praise or recognition. It became a strange form of addiction. Doing the extra credit. Raising my hand faster than the other kids. Beating the adults at Scrabble.

Fast forward to the end of college, an awards ceremony at Columbia University. They were announcing the people graduating with distinction: cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude. “With praise, with great praise, with greatest praise.” My heart raced.

Graduation dayAs they announced the names, I looked at the small booklet they handed to everyone. It listed all of the people graduating, and next to those being recognized there was one or more asterisks. My name didn’t have any. I clearly remember thinking there was some mistake. I had a 3.67 GPA. Surely that was good enough for something!

Fast forward 28 years, and I’m still waiting for them to call my name.

Now I’m at work, trying to do something I care about, and I get upset if they don’t reach down and pat me on the head. All my attempts at self-development and I’m still a four-year-old boy. Worse still, I’m not even sure who “they” are. At this point in my life, whose praise and recognition do I really need?

I look in the mirror and coach myself, something I'm doing more often these days.

It’s time to grow up, Johnny boy. You’re 50.

Stop waiting to be picked.

Focus on the contribution you can make. Focus on shipping and getting better. Focus on helping other people.

Do it for them. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Run. 

Don’t wait for the applause.

Run!

#thankyouthursday

Every Thursday at work, I take a few minutes and think of someone I would like to thank publicly. Then I write a short post on our enterprise social network and tag it with #thankyouthursday. Over time, more people at work are offering thanks that way too. It’s not an original idea. There’s a thankyouthursday.org and a Facebook group and, of course, the fourth Thursday of every November in the US.

My hope is that this post will help you implement your own version of #thankyouthursday at your company or with your friends and family.

Solving the recognition paradox

Inside large organizations, there’s a recognition paradox. Everyone says there should be more recognition of people and their good work, but few people do anything about it. Instead of thanking and recognizing each other, we limit ourselves to Recognition Programs created by Human Resources.

But in an era of self-publishing, it’s easier than ever to change this.

In a recent session on twitter, people who work with social networks inside companies came together online and one topic was about the simple contributions people can make. That reminded me of #thankyouthursday.

thankyouthursday tweet

Steal Like An Artist

About 18 months ago, I wrote about another idea I hoped would spread. Inspired by Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist, I adapted a kind of discussion on Reddit called Ask Me Anything for use inside our firm.

Since then, over 80 executives have participated in open online discussions where anyone at the company can ask them anything. Those discussions are often rich and authentic, with dozens of questions and thousands of people looking on.

Better still, many other firms now use the same technique. They too stole like artists, further adapting Ask Me Anythings to suit their particular organizations. Now I hope the same thing happens with #thankyouthursday.

Creating your own culture of gratitude

Every week, reading all the different notes makes me feel better about where I work and feel more connected to the people there. The small investment I make thanking someone is repaid 100-fold.

To get this feeling yourself, you don’t need to wait for anyone to give you permission or create a program. Just start by scheduling a few minutes every Thursday. Then say thank you in a way that’s convenient and authentic for you. Here are simple instructions from thankyouthursday.org:

“Every Thursday, take an intentional moment to acknowledge those who you are thankful for. Send an email, post a note on Facebook, send them a message on Twitter, give them a call, stop by their desk… etc.

Simply take the time to thank those who have impacted you in big or small ways.”

Say thank you. Whether you do this with friends and family or at work, you’ll be creating your own culture of gratitude that’s good for everyone.

thankyouthursday tag

Solving the recognition paradox

No Thank YouEvery year, we send out employee surveys and, every year, we discover employees aren’t as engaged as we’d like. And yet every year we neglect to do one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective things we can do to improve employee engagement: appreciate what people do.

Why?

More than sex and money

Harvard Business Review routinely publishes articles on employee motivation and engagement. One of the most famous is from Frederick Herzberg who, in 1968, wrote “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” In that article (which for a long time had more reprints purchased than any other from HBR), Herzberg dismissed ham-fisted attempts by managers to motivate employees and urged them instead to focus on job enrichment and "motivator factors".

“The growth or motivator factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement. The dissatisfaction-avoidance or hygiene factors that are extrinsic to the job include: company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security.”

Herzberg’s surveys put recognition as the second most important factor in employee satisfaction.

This week, 45 years after Herzberg’s article, HBR published “The Two Most Important Words”. It’s a personal story from former Mattel CEO, Robert Eckert, on the power of saying “thank you” at work. To make his point more memorable, he quotes another CEO, cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash:

“There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

In the decades in between those two articles, there have been countless studies showing that recognition and praise increase engagement, decrease turnover, and lead to to many other very specific business benefits. So why don’t we see more of it?

Praise paralysis

Just this week, in a meeting where people were lamenting all the issues contributing to employee dissatisfaction, someone suggested we should recognize employees more. Another person agreed, saying that even though there wasn’t budget for events and the like, we should try to be creative.

“How about saying thank you?”, I asked. And an awkward silence fell upon the room.

It was as if “recognition” was something that only came packaged in awards programs. As if we have forgotten the simple, powerful, human gestures of sending a hand-written note or publicly recognizing someone’s work (something that's become easer than ever to do using our social platform).

That meeting wasn’t an aberration. Research “revealed just one in five workers believe a boss at work has ever publicly recognized them. And fewer than half of employees have received even one personal thank-you from their boss.”

Barriers to praise

For many, the potential downsides of rewarding employees - that praise and recognition can be misused, misunderstood, or even bring about negative results - is enough to lead to inaction.

In “Why We Do What We Do”, the psychologist Edward Deci cautions that “rewards can be used as a way to express appreciation, but the more they are used as motivators...the more likely it is that they will have negative effects.”

Too often, managers rely on bonus money or other prizes to reward people. But, as Deci points out, “the results of the studies cast further doubt on the efficacy of these pay-for-performance practices.” Results tend to be short-term and “will likely encourage shortcuts and undermine intrinsic motivation. They will draw people’s attention away from the job itself, towards the rewards it can yield, and that without doubt will result in less effective, less creative problem solving.”

A safe way to start

So what do you do if crude carrots and sticks don’t work? You can get ideas for  comprehensive recognition programs from books like “The Carrot Principle”. They provide useful tools to help you decide on everything from budgets to specific types of rewards for different kinds of achievements.

To start, though, some of the best advice is also the easiest to follow: begin with a genuine, personal “thank you.” Robert Eckert put it well in “The Two Most Important Words”:

“Wherever I show my thanks, these tips work well for me:

  • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work.
  • Handwrite thank-you notes whenever you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age.
  • Punish in private; praise in public. Make the public praise timely and specific.”

I was thinking about this as I was walking to an appointment yesterday. I noticed a landscaper in Battery Park City pruning back some very tall grasses. It was clearly very physical work and the results were stunning. As I walked by, I thought “I should really say thank you.” Yet, in that moment, I was just like every manager at work. I knew what to do but was too busy with other things to act on it.

This time, though, I turned back, approached the landscaper, and thanked her for making our neighborhood look so wonderful. She looked at me, surprised. Then she wiped her brow and smiled. “Thank you for appreciating it.”

That moment made my day. And for the landscaper, she knew that at least one person valued her hard work and admired her achievement. That moment, multiplied by thousands - by millions - is what the Robert Eckert had in mind when he encouraged readers and their firms to “Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance.”

It is a game changer. And it could all start with a “thank you.”

Solving the recognition paradox

No Thank YouEvery year, we send out employee surveys and, every year, we discover employees aren’t as engaged as we’d like. And yet every year we neglect to do one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective things we can do to improve employee engagement: appreciate what people do.

Why?

More than sex and money

Harvard Business Review routinely publishes articles on employee motivation and engagement. One of the most famous is from Frederick Herzberg who, in 1968, wrote “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” In that article (which for a long time had more reprints purchased than any other from HBR), Herzberg dismissed ham-fisted attempts by managers to motivate employees and urged them instead to focus on job enrichment and "motivator factors".

“The growth or motivator factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement. The dissatisfaction-avoidance or hygiene factors that are extrinsic to the job include: company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security.”

Herzberg’s surveys put recognition as the second most important factor in employee satisfaction.

This week, 45 years after Herzberg’s article, HBR published “The Two Most Important Words”. It’s a personal story from former Mattel CEO, Robert Eckert, on the power of saying “thank you” at work. To make his point more memorable, he quotes another CEO, cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash:

“There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

In the decades in between those two articles, there have been countless studies showing that recognition and praise increase engagement, decrease turnover, and lead to to many other very specific business benefits. So why don’t we see more of it?

Praise paralysis

Just this week, in a meeting where people were lamenting all the issues contributing to employee dissatisfaction, someone suggested we should recognize employees more. Another person agreed, saying that even though there wasn’t budget for events and the like, we should try to be creative.

“How about saying thank you?”, I asked. And an awkward silence fell upon the room.

It was as if “recognition” was something that only came packaged in awards programs. As if we have forgotten the simple, powerful, human gestures of sending a hand-written note or publicly recognizing someone’s work (something that's become easer than ever to do using our social platform).

That meeting wasn’t an aberration. Research “revealed just one in five workers believe a boss at work has ever publicly recognized them. And fewer than half of employees have received even one personal thank-you from their boss.”

Barriers to praise

For many, the potential downsides of rewarding employees - that praise and recognition can be misused, misunderstood, or even bring about negative results - is enough to lead to inaction.

In “Why We Do What We Do”, the psychologist Edward Deci cautions that “rewards can be used as a way to express appreciation, but the more they are used as motivators...the more likely it is that they will have negative effects.”

Too often, managers rely on bonus money or other prizes to reward people. But, as Deci points out, “the results of the studies cast further doubt on the efficacy of these pay-for-performance practices.” Results tend to be short-term and “will likely encourage shortcuts and undermine intrinsic motivation. They will draw people’s attention away from the job itself, towards the rewards it can yield, and that without doubt will result in less effective, less creative problem solving.”

A safe way to start

So what do you do if crude carrots and sticks don’t work? You can get ideas for  comprehensive recognition programs from books like “The Carrot Principle”. They provide useful tools to help you decide on everything from budgets to specific types of rewards for different kinds of achievements.

To start, though, some of the best advice is also the easiest to follow: begin with a genuine, personal “thank you.” Robert Eckert put it well in “The Two Most Important Words”:

“Wherever I show my thanks, these tips work well for me:

  • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work.
  • Handwrite thank-you notes whenever you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age.
  • Punish in private; praise in public. Make the public praise timely and specific.”

I was thinking about this as I was walking to an appointment yesterday. I noticed a landscaper in Battery Park City pruning back some very tall grasses. It was clearly very physical work and the results were stunning. As I walked by, I thought “I should really say thank you.” Yet, in that moment, I was just like every manager at work. I knew what to do but was too busy with other things to act on it.

This time, though, I turned back, approached the landscaper, and thanked her for making our neighborhood look so wonderful. She looked at me, surprised. Then she wiped her brow and smiled. “Thank you for appreciating it.”

That moment made my day. And for the landscaper, she knew that at least one person valued her hard work and admired her achievement. That moment, multiplied by thousands - by millions - is what the Robert Eckert had in mind when he encouraged readers and their firms to “Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance.”

It is a game changer. And it could all start with a “thank you.”