Gratitude and Recognition (or saying “please”, and “thank you”)

My Dad gave me one piece of advice when I first became a manager.

Always say “please”, and always say “thank you”. It costs nothing, and it shows the people you manage that you care about them.

It struck me as an odd thing to say. My parents drilled into us the importance of being polite – surely everyone just did this? But then the more I observed, the more I realised that many managers don’t. I also started to notice the effect of its absence on employees – something more fundamental than simple courtesy.

Recognition is a powerful driver – of motivation, and conversely, employee turnover. As a manager, think about how much time you spend on salary reviews, annual appraisals, recruitment and induction, and managing poor performance. What fraction of that time do you spend giving recognition to your employees? When did you last give unsolicited positive feedback to a member of your team – or to people in the teams they manage?

This has to be done with sincerity, and genuine understanding of the contribution that people have made in order to be effective. I’ve seen people quietly furious when another team member has been given shallow thanks for a trivial contribution when a fundamental contribution has been overlooked. A flurry of LinkedIn profile updates often follows.

That’s not to say that you need to understand the detailed activity of everyone working for you. Beyond a certain point, that’s not feasible. But it’s always possible to have a quick chat with a team member – whether or not they’re a team leader – to ask about their colleagues’ contributions. This also builds mutual respect. Give it a try.

I’ve seen managers who believe it’s their job to “hold people’s feet to the fire”. What a bone-headed notion. “To pressure (someone) to consent to or undertake something” – it’s difficult to imagine a more effective destroyer of organisation culture. As Seth Godin says:

Coercion can make change happen (in the short run). Coercion can look like leadership. But it doesn’t scale and it doesn’t last, because ultimately, it burns down the very institution it sought to change by mob force.

A culture of respect for great ideas – wherever they come from. A challenge to the idea that just because you have the top job, you’re always right. An environment of creativity and positivity drawing on the contributions from all team members. These are some of the prerequisites for strong engagement and high productivity. It certainly doesn’t end there, but it can start with a simple “please” and “thank you”.