CEO Confidential

Why genuine appreciation will have employees singing your praises?

5 Conversations: How to transform trust, engagement and performance at work
Nigel Purse, author of ‘5 Conversations: How to transform trust, engagement and performance at work’

When was the last time you showed genuine appreciation for someone’s contribution at work? Not just a ‘thank you’ in passing – really showed them that you appreciated what you did and encouraged them to take it further?

If it has been a while, you’re by no means alone according to the research conducted by The Oxford Group and Atomik Research in 2014. In a wide-ranging survey designed to explore the quality of relationships between managers and employees in five countries, it found that many bosses still have room for improvement when it comes to showing appreciation. The picture is mixed to some extent with managers in some countries appearing to be doing better than others. In the US, for example, twice as many employees say they “always feel appreciated” than in Singapore and Hong Kong.

UK respondents seemed to offer the most negative perspective in general when it comes to how appreciated they feel by their boss. Although 20% say they always feel appreciated, almost as many (17%) say they rarely or never feel appreciated. In other findings, only 20% of employees in Hong Kong say they receive regular appreciation from their manager for the hard work they put in, significantly lower than other countries where the figure is between 30 – 40%. Employees in France take this lack of appreciation particularly seriously, with 15% of French workers wondering why they bother to make an effort at work given no‐one seems to notice.

However, employees still have a desire for praise in the UK and US according to the findings, with more than half of those in these countries saying that praise from an employer makes them feel good. Despite being praised, almost half of workers in Hong Kong say that praise from a boss means nothing because they don’t believe it is genuine.

Satisfying a basic human need

We know that people need to feel valued at work in order to give their best – they need to know that they are contributing to something worthwhile and making a difference. In his book ‘Drive’ Daniel Pink describes how receiving positive feedback contributes to an individual knowing that they are moving towards mastery of their role, a powerful human need that we need to satisfy at work if we have the opportunity. From a business perspective, employees who feel appreciated – and are aware of how and why they are successful – are more engaged and better able to sustain a higher level of performance.

Showing appreciation and being authentic in doing so is not as difficult as you think providing you start by thinking in terms of two very powerful methods:

  1. Spontaneous appreciation – showing gratitude in the moment when you see someone do something great.
  2. Appreciative inquiry – giving a person your full attention through a planned discussion designed to explore their achievements in detail – what strengths contributed to the success and how they can build on that in the future.

There are intentionally two parts. In today’s world of global teams and virtual working, often you will not be present to witness someone doing something well and congratulate them in the moment, so by having a planned discussion about what is going well for them allows you to create an opportunity to show appreciation and build a platform for continued performance.

Here are some simple steps to help you successfully hold these two conversations.

  1. Spontaneous Appreciation – an emotional response:

The essence of this is: spot it; feel it; share it. It must come from a place of genuine care and sincerity and has emotion or feelings attached. The power comes from the fact that the praise is felt at the same time as the success – extending and strengthening the moment. It may go along the lines of:

  • Describe what you saw: “I noticed that you…..’
  • Describe how it made you feel “it really helped me out/I’m happy to see that and I feel….’
  • Thank them with sincerity “Thank you. It is truly appreciated.”
  1. Appreciative Enquiry – starting with the positive:

Borrowing from the “Appreciative Inquiry Method” (AIM) by Stowell and West (1991), this concept is based on the assumption that the questions we ask will tend to focus our attention in a particular direction. We often ask questions based on a deficiency model e.g. ‘What are the problems?’ or ‘What needs to be fixed?’ The thinking behind the questions assumes that there is something wrong, or that something needs to be fixed or solved. Appreciative Inquiry takes an alternative approach starting with the belief that every person has positive aspects that can be built upon. It asks questions like ‘What’s working well?’, ‘What’s good about what you are currently doing?’

Hold this conversation with every member of your team several times per year. If you have monthly catch-up meetings why not make it the default starting position for the meeting? Be mindful of how you open this conversation however – in neuroscience terms, the phrase “Can I give you some feedback” has a similar effect to hearing a window smash at night when you are alone. Their ‘fight or flight’ sense will be activated and fear will override their willingness to discuss themselves. Instead open with: “Can we take some time to talk about what is going really well for you at the moment?”

The conversation can then flow using the following steps:

A. Understand

  • What is their strength?
  • What did they do?
  • How did they do it?
  • Why did they do it?
  • How did they feel when doing it?
  • Show appreciation and reinforce their achievement

B. Explore

  • What more could they do with this strength? Where else could they use/develop these skills?

C. Consolidate

  • What is the key insight they have gained from this discussion?

Feeling appreciated is fundamental to our sense of well-being and fulfilment at work – not to mention our motivation to keep working to the best of our ability. This approach allows your team members to experience these emotions several times a year. Furthermore it will provide you with valuable insights into the strengths and skills that your team members possess, and the depth of talent available in your organization. As a bonus – it will give you a deep sense of fulfilment knowing that your team are getting the recognition they deserve.

5 Conversations: How to transform trust, engagement and performance at work
Nigel Purse, author of ‘5 Conversations: How to transform trust, engagement and performance at work’


(Writing by Nigel Purse graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Modern History. He founded the Oxford Group in 1986, following a career in HR at BP and working in Leadership Development at Mars Inc. Nigel has grown The Oxford Group from a one-man business to a global Learning & Development firm working for many of the world’s most respected organizations, with 250 employees worldwide. Nigel heads The Oxford Group’s work in designing and delivering global Leadership and Management Development programmes. You can contact Nigel on LinkedIn, Twitter: @The_OxfordGroup, and read his blog; Editing by Diana Richardson.)

*2014 Trust, Engagement and Communication in the Workplace Survey.
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