Matt’s boss thanked him for an outstanding job achieving his sales targets during the pandemic and added a ‘but.’ It was a significant result but he said they have to keep it up because they were not out of the woods yet. Everything that followed ‘but’ was how they were not doing enough to trade through the crisis. He drowned the excellent work that Matt had done in a sea of concern for the future.
It is understandable that his boss viewed it that way because he was up at night worrying about the balance sheet. He also believed that people will take their foot off the pedal if you tell them they have done an excellent job. What he failed to realise is that Matt’s success in accomplishing a significant milestone, despite the challenges he faced, is worth celebrating. Like most of us, being acknowledged motivates us to even greater heights.
It is easy to postpone celebrating success because we have not finished the work yet. But we never reach the finish line. It does not matter if it’s achieving a sales target, completing a complex project or delivering a new product to market. Whatever we achieve, the goalposts will move to the next thing. When we stop and acknowledge people’s progress toward some big goal, we build a stronger foundation for the future. Once you communicate your appreciation and know they have received it, there is a basis to talk about what’s next. It does not work to do both in the same breath. Putting a ‘but’ in the thank-you will negate the gesture.
As part of our research for The Gentle Art of Leadership, the book that Dean Phelan and I are co-authoring, we have been interviewing many senior leaders about the practices that contribute to their success. Most of them have spoken about showing their appreciation to people for the small wins along the way to a bigger goal or strategy.
One senior executive instituted a practice of calling people several levels down in his organisation to say thank you for something specific the employee had contributed. His leadership team keep him supplied with plenty of examples of impressive work, at his request. The ripple effect of his practice of saying thank you resulted in a culture that celebrates success. It is no surprise that his employee engagement scores are high and his group always achieve exceptional results.
🙋 How do you celebrate small wins on the way to a bigger goal or strategy? 🙋♀️
Best regards, Brian
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