Monday, June 18, 2012

Manager Mondays - Put the "Great" in Grateful

Welcome to Manager Mondays, a blog-within-a-blog that functions as a forum for improving workforce communication.  Join us each week to keep your contacts with your team fresh and fruitful!   This week it's all about expressing gratitude.  
Please note:  what follows is an adaptation of a comment that I originally posted on another blog cited here previously, Positive Organizational Behavior (  
Very few scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of thanking employees.  However, one fascinating piece of research on this subject was published in 2010 (see full citation below).  This study showed that when people received expressions of gratitude for tasks they did at work,  it increased both the frequency and duration of behaviors intended to help the organization.  
Empirical evidence aside, I think any one of us instinctively knows that we ourselves respond better when we are thanked than when we are left unthanked.  This holds true whether the effort is small, like holding the door open for a co-worker, or big, like completing a project within budget and on time.
As a person who directs others' work, do you recognize the power of your "thank you," and use it liberally?  
At minimum, the expression of thanks is a signal that:
- a person's effort was noticed;
- a person's effort was perceived as having a beneficial impact;
- a person's effort was perceived as springing from their own human initiative — or in other words, the “thanker” acknowledges that the person had a choice to do it or not, and the person decided to do it.
It's that last assumption that trips up many bosses.  "Why say thank you?" they wonder. "Don't I have a right to expect good performance?  Do I actually need to tell a guy I'm grateful that he did something he needed to do anyway?  Doesn't that make me sound wimpy?"  
 This line of reasoning says that a task that falls within someone’s assigned duties is not thanks-worthy.  There may be some basis of logic to this idea -- but leading employees isn't always purely logical .  What works on paper, doesn't always work on people.  A boss may view her leadership actions as purely logical business transactions, but most assuredly her employees do not.  They're looking for signs of validation, reassurance, and guidance in every communication their leader sends their way.  
The folks who work for you don't just dispense their labor on demand, the way a Coke machine dispenses Coke.  They decide how, when, and to what extent to comply with the requirements of their job.  Those decisions represent a vast opportunity for good management -- and they're locked away inside the other person's volitional capacity, beyond your ability to control.   But when people perceive that you, the person in charge, are sincerely grateful for their individual effort and sacrifice, they will tend to grant you more access to their locked-away power of personal choice.  In other words, they will increasingly follow your leadership.
Once I had a discussion about expressing gratitude with a former colleague. We both developed training courses for our organization. She balked at my inclusion of a slide at the end of a classroom training that said, “Thanks for coming today!” She rightfully pointed out that this was a required course.  The participants had to attend, so why should we thank them for doing so?  
I conceded that she was correct in her logic -- but I kept the "thank you" slide.  I wanted to acknowledge the fact that for this course, they had to show up outside of work hours, during time that would otherwise be their own.   And even though they would be compensated in their paycheck, at the training rate we were paying, the course was not exactly a gold mine. Thanks were in order.  (And by the way, the course was well received -- and wildly successful.)
Over the years, I've kept to a pattern of thanking people even for those things that others consider usual or expected behavior.  I've been in charge of workers whose clear mandate was to do what I told them to do -- yet I still showered them with thanks for doing it.  This approach has never backfired for me.  Far from it, I have found that the action of thanking people almost always results in more positive behaviors, greater team loyalty, and an increased sense of ownership.
By honoring a person with a simple verbal "thanks," we recognize, and grant dignity to, the inner human being who lives within the outer system of work-related behaviors.  Gratitude acknowledges the soul.   
So let’s all un-Scrooge ourselves from the niggling urge to treat people as if they owed us. The truth is, they may owe us — but by thanking them, we will not risk an insurrection — only maximize the interaction.
Don't treat your people like Coke machines.  They will view it as contempt, and give you less of the unrestrained cooperation that your organization needs to thrive.  Instead, discipline yourself to show your workers that you're grateful.  You'll  prime your workers -- and yourself -- to be great.  
Agree, or disagree?  Do you have an opinion?  Please post a comment to share your views!  

Full citation: Grant, A.G. & Gino, F. (2010). A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (6): 946-955.

Please read more from Bret Simmons on this and other leadership topics by visiting his excellent website:

No comments:

Post a Comment