I have written in the past about the need to say “Thank You”. In our roles we are all dependent to some extent on others and our teams for our success and it seems too many times we neglect to recognize that fact and thank those that have helped achieve success. I have also written about the need when thanked to say “You’re Welcome”. Too many times we have the tendency to respond with some sort of less meaningful phrase such as “sure” or “no problem” or some other similar value reducing terminology. Doing this devalues the exchange to the point where we soon begin to wonder why no one has said thank you to us anymore. At the risk of sounding like some sort of overzealous disciple of Miss Manners I am going to stay somewhat in this vein and discuss the needs and benefits of letting people know when they have done a “Good Job”.
We like to think that we all live and work in one of those here to fore highly desirable risk and return environments. I really don’t think this is truly the case. We have all come to expect a supremely high level of performance and competency in all that we do. It is when expectations of performance reach these levels that in reality there is very little return available. When you expect perfection and receive perfection you are merely satisfied, not delighted. When that situation occurs all that remains in the expectation equation is the risk. I’ll illustrate with a couple of simple examples:
I have had a car for the last couple of years and it has been absolutely problem free. All I need to do is put gas in it, and occasionally bring it in for an oil change or service as is indicated and was expected when I bought it. It has run flawlessly and I am very happy with it.
Despite this near perfect performance, I have not bothered to call the dealership, or manufacturer for that matter, to tell them how much I appreciate their effort in producing such a fine car. It is in reality what I expected.
On the other hand however, should I go out to my car at the end of the day today and unexpectedly find that it will not start, or now requires towing and service and whatever else in order to return it to its previous performance level, there is probably a very good chance that I will make both of those calls to the dealership and the manufacturer to let them know of my relatively low level of contentment with their product and question them rather vociferously about their plans to rectify the situation.
On a similar and yet much broader example, I think the majority of us now get our internet / television / phone service delivered to our homes via some sort of communication service provider. For the most part these capabilities are also delivered at a very high level as well. And for the most part we have all come to expect, and possibly even depend on this level of service.
However, should we lose our internet connection capability while one of our children is in the midst of doing their last minute research for their assignment that is due the following morning, or heaven forbid we lose the video signal during one of our favorite television shows or during the big game, I suspect that there will be several calls into that provider both voicing displeasure and asking when the service will be restored.
Like I just said. There does not seem to be any further reward available for expected flawless performance, only the risk of disappointment and unhappiness when it is not achieved.
I think the same sort of approach has evolved in the business world. We bring people on and build teams expecting them to operate and perform at very high levels of competence and efficiency. This is obviously a given. If we didn’t think that the people could operate at very high levels of competency and performance we wouldn’t have selected them in the first place.
It is only when they occasionally don’t operate at these high levels of expected performance, or fail to achieve one of several stretch objectives that managers engage and provide immediate feedback, and when they do it is normally in the form of negative feedback. It’s sort of like the employee being the cable company when the cable goes out in the middle of the big game. They hear about it.
It doesn’t matter that the employee or the team may have been performing superbly for significant stretches before the issue. It doesn’t matter if the objective was reasonable or even achievable. Because we have continued to evolve ever higher levels of performance expectations, we are in fact little by little removing the “return” portion of the risk / return equation. There is no longer a return for performing well, only a risk for having an issue.
This approach can evolve businesses into a de facto negative reinforcement management style and structure. Instead of people striving to improve or do better, they in fact begin to work at avoiding the negative feedback.
On the surface this may sound like two sides of the same coin: striving to achieve and working to avoid failure, but in reality they are not. If there is no reward of any kind, including the simplest recognition, then there is no incentive for improvement or advancement. Avoiding failure means the incentive is just to perfect the status quo. The result is that you are not really trying to make things better; your effort is going into avoiding making them any worse.
I have worked in organizations where negative feedback avoidance as opposed to positive feedback incentives was the cultural norm. I believe that there are some structures where this approach may in fact prove appropriate, particularly in those areas where the “collective” aspect of the performance is more important than the individual’s.
I remember working for an Asian based company that had this negative feedback, more collective approach to things. The organization’s management viewed their value add to the business structure as their ability to focus on those objectives that weren’t achieved and goals that were not met. It was an eye opening experience.
During my first annual review, after a reasonably successful year, I was met with the following statement (and I am paraphrasing, but also very close to the actual statement):
“It seems that you have met all your goals for this year, but all in all, we actually expected better performance from you.”
I wish I had made that up, but I didn’t.
The fact remains that while there may not be a full balance in the risk and return equation for business performance, there at least needs to be some sort or recognized return. To put it a little simpler there needs to be some sort of carrot to offset the stick approach to management. I think the carrot starts with the simple acknowledgement that someone has met our expectations. In essence letting them know when they have done a “Good Job”.
It doesn’t need to be said all the time. I don’t think that any of us has a desire to have praise lavished upon us all the time. That would devalues the effect. However on occasion acknowledging the effort, which even though was expected or even defined and required in the job description or position profile, can go very far in maintaining a level of commitment to continuing to move the business forward.
Without this sort of positive reinforcement it is all too easy for a business to fall into the trap of not trying to move things forward and doing things the best way, but only trying to avoid the negative feedback associated while maintaining a performance that meets the current level. Performance measurement is no longer associated with who performs the best; it is now focused on who makes the fewest mistakes.
The problem is that the only person who makes no mistakes in business is the one who doesn’t do anything.
I am not proposing that providing compliments will correct all business issues. What I am saying is that occasionally recognizing those people that are performing at the expected high levels of achievement with the acknowledgement of “Good Job” will likely keep them more engaged and more likely to deliver the desired good job in the future.
…and no, “Not a Bad Job” is not an acceptable alternative acknowledgement.