Many of us work in organizations with high-achievement cultures and are ourselves driven by achieving meaningful goals. However, there is a shadow-side to the high-achievement mindset: First, it often focuses on perceived deficits – where did we fall short? Second, those of us who are achievement-oriented are prone to quickly move on to the next challenge without acknowledging what has just been accomplished. Sound familiar?

To be clear, in this week’s blog I’m not talking about formal recognition, which tends to be top-down, focuses on star performers, and emphasizes public successes. Appreciation can – and should – come from anyone in the organization. It should acknowledge a range of contributions that make a difference; from the big and flashy to the small and less public.

If you are looking to foster a greater spectrum of recognition in your organization, where do you begin? Start by building a foundation for inclusive appreciative culture, using these four practices:

1. Notice the good. Hone your lens to find both big and small contributions that you appreciate. It’s easy to take “smooth operation” for granted in workplace environments that are focused primarily on solving problems and getting stuff done. Many things worth noticing are often overlooked, such as…

  • Extra effort, initiative, and care
  • Behaviors and choices that exemplify core values
  • Risks that were worth taking, whether or not they paid off as planned
  • Vulnerability (e.g., asking for help or feedback)

2. Become a “Story Hunter-Gatherer.” Actively engage those around you in the search for stories of success, commitment, and contribution. Be a great listener – the best story hunter-gatherers model the curiosity of a journalist and the affirming energy of a pastor. They ask story-evoking questions about why people feel grateful, proud, or excited – such as…

  • Who is the best kept secret around here – the unsung hero who makes all the difference? Why is this person so amazing?
  • What aspects of your work make you really proud or excited?
  • Where in the organization do you see one or more of our core values being lived out

3. Share your appreciation. Take time to say privately and/or publicly WHAT you noticed and WHY you appreciated it. According to authors Gary Chapman and Paul White there are Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Identifying each person’s preferred language and delivering appreciation accordingly is key to ensuring your gratitude is heard. Those languages are…

  • Affirming Words: Say specifically what you value and appreciate
  • Quality Time: Giving another person your full attention
  • Acts of Service: Doing something that makes a colleague’s life easier
  • Tangible Gifts: A personalized gift that is meaningful to that person
  • Appropriate Physical Touch: Not as valued or welcome in the workplace but might include extending your hand (e.g., high-five, handshake, etc.)

4. Create space for others to express appreciation. Appreciation can come from all directions, and should be 360 – not just top-down. Build time and space into meetings for people at all levels of the organization to express appreciation and invite them to speak directly to one another as they do. Before the meeting, provide instructions to demonstrate and emphasize the value you are placing on expression of appreciation: Write down the name of someone who did something you appreciate. In a few words describe what they did and why you appreciated it. If you know their preferred “language of appreciation”, or can make an educated guess, see if you can devise a fitting way to express your thoughts in the meeting. If you think your sentiments would be better shared privately, we encourage you to do that before the meeting.

In organizations that don’t address the shadow-side of high-achievement culture, many employees feel invisible and undervalued. In an increasingly competitive employment market, re-framing appreciation to be more all-encompassing can be the difference between keeping or losing top performers and high-potential people.

What are the most meaningful ways you’ve experienced appreciation in the workplace?

Image Credit: Ankush Minda on Unsplash

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