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Rediff.com  » Business » Why is it so hard to say 'well done'?

Why is it so hard to say 'well done'?

September 18, 2007 11:25 IST

Businesses small and large have always had difficulty retaining talent. Employees enter and exit companies on the same basic premise, maximizing the latest opportunity with the best pay.

Supervisors, managers and anyone else in charge of hiring, in their complacency, accept this turnover as the norm even when it could be a clear indicator that maybe people aren't satisfied and would have stayed with the company for something as simple as the occasional pat on the back. According to some studies and one author, that's worth its weight in gold.

In his new book, Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation (Jossey-Bass, $19.95), author and leadership motivational speaker Mike Robbins talks about the value and importance of acknowledging a job well done.

He cites key research from the U.S. Department of Labor and The Gallup Organization, the global research firm, to support a very simple yet important claim. According to the DOL, 64% of working Americans leave their jobs because they don't feel appreciated, while Gallup research shows that 70% of working Americans say they receive no praise or recognition on the job.

"We understand this and we should know how to do it, like you said, as grown adults," Robbins said.

"But we never had any training. I never took a class in school on how to appreciate people or how to be grateful, how to look at the 'good stuff.' But to me it's one of the most fundamental things we could do to be successful."

Google knows what's up. Yahoo!  already has the gist of the message too. Those are a couple of Robbins' favorites when it comes to employee appreciation. However, they could still benefit from some motivational words too.

Forbes.com: What led you from professional baseball to a dot-com to motivational speaking?

Mike Robbins: I blew out my pitching arm when I was 23 playing in the minor leagues for Kansas City (Robbins was drafted by the Royals in 1995).

I get hurt. Career's over. The dot-com thing was just sort of happenstance. I moved back to the San Francisco area where I grew up and it was the late '90s and the dot-com boom was going on. I did that for a couple years. Laid off in 2000.

I'm glad I had those couple years of business experience because it helps me do what I do now. I had a little money saved and with all of my experience in sports and a couple years in business, this whole notion of teamwork of appreciation of really creating positive environments seemed to be what success was really about. And I thought I had a few things I could share even though I was pretty young at the time.

How do you go from talking to Chevron to executives at AT&T to a group that you're talking to right now to students? How do you meet all of them on common ground?

If I'm talking to an AT&T or a Chevron or a Wells Fargo, it's going to vary even within that organization depending on the group I'm talking to. But what I find is that people are people and appreciation is one of those things that fundamentally connects people to one another. So when people appreciate one another, they create better relationships in whatever kind of business they're doing. In most businesses, people are in the people business and then on a personal level so many of us are so hard on ourselves and critical of ourselves. I think that when we can appreciate ourselves we ultimately produce better results.

At the same time I know that a lot of the stuff is common, human stuff.

What company already has a handle on the things you preach?

Wells Fargo [employers] do an incredible job. They bring me in a lot. Over the last four-five years I've probably done over 100 programs there. They've had me speak at big events. They've had me come in and do small seminars. They've had me train people. They do a fantastic job. Their people feel really appreciated.

Another one that's easy to use as an example, although its not my client, although I did have a meeting down there, is Google. I had a meeting at Google and the moment I walked on the campus I immediately thought there was a party going on or something. I called the guy who I was meeting with and asked him whether there was some event. He said this is how it is here. It felt like a cross between Stanford and Disneyland.

Google requires its employees to take 20% of their work day to do something else other than their job. The place is open 24-7. The company feeds its people incredible food. The campus is beautiful. There's all these things that make people feel appreciated. Now you could say it's making all this money and it's at the top of the heap, so to speak, but I don't think it's an accident.

One of the pieces of feedback I got was Google is doing so well and its people are so happy that it might not necessarily need my services. But what I said in response was, look, a lot of companies I go to, I talk to them about the cynicism and the negativity and how to overcome that. In your case, people seem pretty happy and you're successful, so we would discuss how to take that to the next level.

Whose job is it exactly to express this appreciation? Does it always have to be the boss? Aren't the executives too high up to have anyone remark on their performance?

One of the challenges for the C-level execs is they don't get a lot of appreciation themselves. So very few people walk into their offices in any genuine way and let them know what they're doing well.

The perception is that whenever that happens, people are kissing up or it's some kind of phony thing. They're under so much pressure to produce the results for the organization. I think the higher up you go, the harder it becomes for people to stop and genuinely appreciate what's happening because there is so much pressure.

That being said, I think there are some organizations that do a lot better than others, but by and large, it's lacking in most organizations. And the companies that I work with that have the best results and the best ultimate morale or environment are always the ones where not only the C-level executives, but all the way down people feel a genuine sense of appreciation. The other thing that I really teach is that recognition has to come from above. But appreciation can come from anyone to anyone. So I really try to empower people whether I'm talking to the senior level executives all the way down the organization.

Appreciation I talk about as almost a culture thing, whereas recognition is almost a top-down kind to reward results and I think both are important.

What's a greater form of appreciation in the business world? Would you say verbal or monetary or through promotion?

I think it's both, to be honest with you. The reality with a check or a promotion is that could only happen once or twice a year if you're doing phenomenally well. I tell people in the audience, think about a time you felt appreciated, recognized or acknowledged in your career. Then I have them turn to the person next to them and have them share that experience and then I have a few volunteers raise their hands and (share). And every now and then it's a big promotion or some big thing, but even when it's that it's usually something really simple. It's something very personal. Very specific. Very mundane in some ways.

Going back to that point about why people leave their jobs because they don't feel appreciated. Remember, it's not money. It's about they don't feel valued.

At the end of the day, of course who wouldn't want more money or a nicer title but I think that there's been a lot of cases where people stayed places where this person--specifically their boss--really valued them and felt like what they could say and what they did had an impact on the organization.

You might expect that adults would already know how to treat each other. Why aren't we getting it already and what business does Mike Robbins have going around telling us how to appreciate our colleagues?

Well, I actually think we're getting it more. I started speaking about this full time seven years ago. And when I did I had people say, What is that--who cares. And now, I don't get that anymore. People go, Yeah this is really important.

I wrote this book specifically to be very practical and tangible so people could take this stuff and use it in their lives, use it in their businesses because even though we know it ... like the final chapter in my book is, It's not what we know it's what we do that matters.

We've got to start putting little things, simple things, into practice every day so they become habits.

Matthew Kirdahy, Forbes.com