The value of acknowledgment

  Another Monday. Goodness they seem to come fast these days. The team leapt out the gate in record time; I barely caught up with them before they got to work. It was almost like they felt eager to get on with it all. Which is a good thing, given how much we have to do.

The day also started out well for me personally, as a valued customer gave me some good feedback and a few words of appreciation for my efforts. The feedback will allow me to carry forward with some things I'm concerned about. The appreciation, though, gave me the lift I needed to start catching up with my team. Mind you they were already far ahead of me...

Appreciation comes in many useful forms. The simplest, and most commonly encountered, comes in the form of straight praise. “Good job” and “Great work” don't mean much in today's environment, but people still get a little thrill from hearing them. In order to be effective, though, these simple tools have to connect to some kind of achievement. Otherwise, they feel a lot like giving a gold star to someone just for showing up. Personally I use these to mark the little achievements we strive for every day, especially when the team gets something done which will avert rather than solve a disaster.

A more complex form of appreciation comes cloaked in two little words “thank you.”. If “good job” serves to acknowledge work, “thank you” acknowledges the person doing the activity. Its a personal statement of your recognition of another's effort. It is most effective when coupled with a sacrifice on the part of the actor; an action or expenditure of time above and beyond the call of duty. The “thank you” indicates that you saw the sacrifice, understood it, and appreciate it even if it was not personally for you, but rather for the team or the greater goal. In my own life I try to thank those who sacrifice for me, even if it is expected of them for some reason. After all, a sacrifice is still a sacrifice even if our jobs require it.

A still more complex form of appreciation requires us to take the measure of the person we communicate with. We must assess his impact on his environment, what interests him, and the choices he makes to realize those interests. Then we can comment on his efforts within the context of what is important to him, relating those activities to the overall goals of the business. This allows the individual to feel appreciated as a unique part of the organization, with a unique contribution, regardless of where he sits. I'm not very good at this type of appreciation yet myself, though I recognize it in the better leaders I've worked with.

The most important thing about acknowledgment, though, is that it must be sincere. You must honestly think the person did a good job, truly appreciate their sacrifice, and believe that no matter how off they seem from you their contribution is important. You must focus your attention, at the expense of your own time and energy, on the other person for a period of time. Intent counts for more than technique in this case; an awkward yet real acknowledgment means more than a well-practiced but unfelt one.

It's this lack of sincerity which makes acknowledgment difficult in most companies. People get conditioned to expect falseness. They become cynical and bitter, so much so that even honest acknowledgments sometimes fall flat on their face.

Oddly enough, this same factor makes it difficult to accept an honest acknowledgment. You forget what it's like, so only later in the day or week do you realize what just happened. Either that or you turn it, and its ability to motivate you, aside out of fear you might once again expose yourself to an emotionally dangerous situation.

I know I'm in that boat myself some days.

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