People need to feel valued for their contributions, and building a culture of appreciation and acknowledgment is a simple,cost-effective method that companies can implement and maintain to keep people engaged and able to achieve the work-life balance they seek in their lives.
I will give you an example that I wrote about in my new book, "Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results." The example as I recall it, really drove home the point for me about the effectiveness of having and continually enabling a culture of appreciation and gratitude. It occurred when I delivered a keynote address to an Information Systems conference in Arizona, after which a young woman came up to me and said, "I am a living example of what you have been talking about!"
"Great," I said and waited curiously to hear her story.
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"I used to work for a great company, Booz Allen Hamilton,"she began. "I felt valued and appreciated every day and loved coming to work,even when I was involved in difficult and challenging projects," she continued."And then I got an offer to go to another company with a more senior level position with a higher salary. Even then it was a tough call," she said, "but I eventually chose to take the job. Then, after just a few weeks, I realized I had made a huge mistake. There was no appreciation for anything I did, no praise or recognition or acknowledgment. I felt confused and uncertain all the time, and did not feel valued at all. And so," she said with a big grin, "last week I quit! I don't have another job lined up, but I am going back to Booz Allen Hamilton in any position. I really need to be in a company that appreciates its people."
I found this story intriguing, and with my interest piqued, I sought out a partner at the company to talk about their culture as well as to share with her the story I had been told. I asked the Partner, "Have you heard of other examples of people leaving and then wanting to return to your company because they missed its positive culture?"
She laughed and said, "Oh yes, we call them the 'come-back kids', and we welcome them, knowing how happy they are to make their greatest contribution to a company that values them."
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The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) cites "lack of appreciation" in an Employee Retention Study as the number one reason why good people leave good jobs to go to other companies. So what can be done about this goes beyond perks and benefits. Leaders who recognize that the special gifts and talents people bring to the team and organization as a whole must be valued and acknowledged on a consistent basis. As a leader, allow yourself to feel and express the gratitude you have for your people, especially when they dedicate themselves and their unique talents to accomplishing the objectives at hand.
As part of my new book,I had the awesome opportunity to interview 11 inspiring and amazingly humble Grateful Leaders, including Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market and Tom LaForge, Global Director of Human & Cultural Insights, The Coca-ColaCompany, I was always surprised to find out how each Grateful Leader had a unique perspective and always taught me something new about what it truly means o build a culture of gratitude and appreciation. More than anything, I see these leaders as courageous pioneers, in changing the way we think about leaders and their relationship to their teams. Rather than expecting their people to be grateful to them for their jobs, their health benefits and 401(k)s, these leaders allow themselves to feel and express their gratitude for having their people choose to join and stay with them.
To lead with gratitude is to have the courage to learn, the vision to lead, and the passion to grow. Through my experience training executives and business professionals around the world, I have learned that the leaders who want to make their companies better places to work and the jobs of the people around them more gratifying, have frequently built the strongest and most loyal teams through authentic, heartfelt acknowledgment. Successful teams almost always share one unique trait, and that is the ability to freely express appreciation for the contributions of others, which has an immediate positive impact on productivity, engagement and overall well-being of team members.
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So the message I want to get across in my books, this blog entry, training sessions and pretty much anything I do is that gratitude, acknowledgment and appreciation are powerful leadership capabilities. Leaders who possess these skills will engage their people and let them know how valued and appreciated they are, which outlasts the novelty of tangible benefits -- including even raises. According to a McKinsey Quarterly survey, respondents to questions about what motivates people identified three non cash motivators. "Praise from immediate managers,leadership attention (for example, one-on-one conversations), and a chance to lead projects or task forces – [were] no less or even more effective motivators than the three highest-rated financial incentives: cash bonuses, increased base pay, and stock or stock options…."
So let's be clear: if you want to provide the foundation for a healthy and collaborative workplace culture, be grateful… and be sure to let your people know that you are!
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About the author: Judith W. Umlas is Senior Vice President at International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL) and Publisher of IIL Publishing as well as the project management website all M.com. She has trained over 20,000 professionals, including project managers, engineers, executives and C-Level leaders. Her articles have appeared in Working Woman magazine, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and many other newspapers and magazines. She is the author of The Power of Acknowledgment,Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results, and the upcoming, anti-bullying book The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids.