When I was a VP in corporate America, I asked one of my team members to come into my office so we could talk. I had a new team and the team had only reported to me for a couple of weeks, I had taken over the position from a former executive. When she came into my office she was visibly nervous, sat down and asked me “what is wrong?” I told her that nothing was wrong, that I just wanted to talk. I then asked her if we could talk about her goals for her career. She got an odd expression on her face, and I asked her what she was thinking. She said she was 45 years old, and in her career she had never had a manager ask her what she wanted to do in her career. Ever.
Do you want to be a great leader? Then part of that is you need to become a great CEO., which means chief encouragement officer. I meet far too many people who tell me they work hard, and never get any acknowledgment from the person that is their boss. In fact the only communication they ever get from their manager is when they make a mistake. So how do you go about being a great chief encouragement officer?
Related: Seven Ways to Boost Employee Morale
Make sure you give positive feedback.
Years ago I reported to a manager who told me that “he was not going to compliment me for something they paid me to do.” I thought that was one of the most absurd comments I’ve ever heard in corporate America. Just because you pay someone to do a job, doesn’t mean that they don’t every now and then need some positive feedback, a pat on the back or a thank you. I used to have 3 x 6 thank you notes that had my name printed on the top of the card, and when one of my team members did something that exceeded expectations, I would write them a note thanking them for their contributions and their effort. What I found fascinating is many times I would go to their workspace and find that card proudly displayed, for months. This told me that it was more than just a simple piece of cardboard, but a proud acknowledgement of their effort. They clearly valued the positive feedback.
Don’t be stingy with compliments.
I often wonder if people in a leadership role have a budget for “thank you’s.” But wait; aren’t compliments free? When I ask leaders why they don’t thank people often or at all, they give me one of several reasons: 1) they are too busy (even though telling someone thank you takes all of three seconds verbally) 2) they are afraid the other person will (and this is a direct quote) “get a big head, and want a raise” 3) They don’t think compliments are necessary because after all, “they don’t need them” I don’t even believe that is true, because most people like to be thanked. This is completely wrong anyway, because as a leader it’s not what you like, it’s what the people you report to like, what they respond to. The key to motivating a direct report is to find out what encourages them, and to make them feel appreciated. As Bob Nelson once said “people make take a job for more money, but they often leave it for more recognition.”
Figure out ways to reward.
Beyond giving people verbal feedback and complements, it is important to also give them rewards for exceptional performance, as yet another form of encouragement. I recently worked as a consultant with a company that was trying to improve their customer service. We came up with many ways to monitor and measure the performance level of the customer service representatives. We also developed consequences of what would happen if they did not perform. I also had a very important question for the company, “we came up with the punitive consequences when they didn’t perform, what are the positive consequences if they did? The leaders of the company simply said “well, were are paying them to do that”. I said that I understood what they meant, but that they needed to come up with some ways to reward people for performing over and above the expectations. It could include small gift cards, extra time off, employee of the month, employee of the quarter or employee of the year. My point is I did not want the focus to just be on punishment but also on reward.
Concentrate on employee development.
Another way of showing people that you care about their contributions, that they have value to the organization, is to help them get where they want to go. If I sit down and talk to each of my direct reports and find out what it is that they want in terms of their career, and help them get there, they will feel appreciated. I see too many leaders across the country who never invest time in developing an employee’s skill sets or having discussions with them about what it is they want for their career. If we help someone reach their goals they will feel much more appreciated.
Participate in small talk when you see them.
I once had an executive visit my department and walk by everyone’s workspace and did not say hello to anyone. The rest of the day I had employees coming to me and asking me if they were invisible, saying that they felt disrespected by that executive because they did not even acknowledge that they existed. When you see anyone you should say hello at the minimum, and if you have a few moments ask them how they’re doing or how their family is doing. This I believe, is another form of acknowledgment, and in my mind when you get attention from an executive it is acknowledgment which is also a form of encouragement. I once was working with one of my clients and going on a tour around the building with the senior vice president. I was amazed that she said hello to everyone, and even though there were 1,200 people in the building, she knew every one of them by their first name.
So if you want to increase morale, have a productive team, and want people feeling great about their work, then you have to seriously consider that naturally you have a functional role but you also have another very important role -- and that role is being chief encouragement officer. As Margaret cousins once said “appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”