DON’T save it for when they’ve gone. Please, tell them now!

A teacher I know left one school to join another and was blown away by the lovely things colleagues said about him once they heard he was leaving. He simply had no idea. Sadly this is all too common. Psychic powers aren’t freely available today yet still we assume others know what we think of them, when most of the time they have no idea.

The breakfast of champions

Ken Blanchard coined one of my favourite phrases “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Whether you call it feed-back or feed-forward, the point is that psychic powers are not a typical team strength! Praise is one of the most powerful motivators in existence – so much so that being praised triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical in our brains that controls feelings of reward and pleasure. As well as making us feel great, dopamine also enables more innovative thinking. And it’s free!

Research on this topic is everywhere – surf the web at your leisure, or think back to how you felt when you last received genuine praise for a job well done. And the great thing about appreciation is that it doesn’t just feel great to receive it – once you get going it feels great to give it. When it comes to feedback, what’s not to like?

Feedback is like fish

But the effects of dopamine are not long lasting, so praise needs to be continuous, not just quarterly or annual. Jim Harter, chief scientist at performance management consultancy the Gallup Organisation puts it like this: “recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis” – or to put it in a less academic way “feedback is like fish – it goes off after a week.”

That’s why Gallup have phrased one of their key questions in the Q12 engagement survey “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”

Gallup’s ongoing research reveals employees who receive regular praise are more productive, more engaged and more likely to stay with their organisation than those who don’t. The results also indicate employees who are praised receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers – and even experience better health.

Straight to the bottom line – and the top

A recent study published in Harvard Business Review revealed a mere 0.1 percent increase in employee engagement at ‘Best Buy’ added $100,000 profit per year per store. According to Chester Elton, motivation expert and co-author of “The Carrot Principle” recognition or appreciation were the single biggest factor in employee engagement throughout this study. He says “The number one driver of engagement is opportunity and well-being” and “The number one driver of opportunity and well-being is recognition and appreciation.” And of course employees who are fully engaged with their work give so much more to the customer experience and the success of their organisation.

Do it now

So the key thing with appreciation – is to do it! Don’t over complicate it – just have a conversation. Here’s how:

• Make sure it’s a good time to speak to them

• Talk specifically about what they did

• Explain how you felt as a result

• Thank them sincerely

• Reflect afterwards on their response

For example “When you stopped what you were doing and listened carefully to my concerns about the project, I left feeling confident you understood exactly where I was coming from. Before our conversation I was very concerned about the direction you were taking but since we met I haven’t given it a second thought. Thank you.”

Timing is key because if their attention is embroiled in something else and they haven’t got time for the conversation, it will have little impact. Don’t waste good praise by letting it get lost in the noise. It’s like serving an expensive meal to someone who is already full – it doesn’t matter how delicious it is, they’re already full.

Focus on specific behaviours and actions so it is 100% clear and genuine – don’t get into broad “you’re amazing” statements or empty praise that hasn’t really been earned as it can come across as flippant and insincere, doing more harm than good. When you focus on what they did rather than who they are, you position the action as something they can repeat rather than simply inferring they are naturally ‘good’ at something or not. Some call this ‘feed-forward’ because it’s focused on repeating behaviours in the future, not simply reflecting on the past.

By adding your feelings, you ‘turbo charge’ the feedback and maximise its impact – plus they can’t disagree with how you felt so it really helps get the message through the steel plated armour that so many people wear to deflect positive feedback.

Of course it is essential to know your teams as individuals, because when it comes to recognition, different things work for different people. You won’t always get it right for the individual, so take the time to reflect on their response and what you could do differently next time.

The ripple effect

In the busy lives we lead, it is almost certain you are not giving enough appreciation – not just at work but at home. And if you ever find yourself thinking you would love to receive more appreciation yourself, then take note of the ripples that appreciation creates around us. The more we give out, the more we receive back (eventually!) If you would like to start receiving more appreciation – start giving it.

So to fill your team with rocket fuel, completely free of charge, simply write their names in a list, then add something you genuinely appreciate about their contribution each week – and tell them. Now book the time in your diary to rewrite that list every week. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Keep repeating. Then do it at home.

Do this consistently and engagement will continue to rise. More than that – on the back of regular positive feedback, when you have the inevitable difficult conversations you will find that most of them won’t turn out to be that difficult after all.

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Peter Anderton

Author: Peter Anderton

A sought after coach and change agent, Peter has spent many years in Organisational Development, focusing on developing high performance leadership teams, executive coaching, strategy and change. He builds relationships quickly and is as comfortable in the boardroom as he is at ‘grass roots’. Known for his integrity, energy and a real passion for making things happen, he has a uniquely direct yet supportive style that delivers.

Peter is a qualified NLP master practitioner, a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a Chartered Engineer.