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Managing Principals by Julia Kramer Giving Thanks

Acknowledging good deeds in the office can create its own rewards.

By  Julia Kramer

On Thanksgiving, my family spends time at the dinner table talking about our many blessings. Not surprisingly, good health, happy children, charitable deeds and the very fact that we’ve all made it one more year top the list. A big bonus, new window office and other work-related achievements don’t make it to the table. Not that we don’t appreciate these things, but my family, like most people I know, treasure the intangibles more than the “stuff” we accumulate in life.

I wonder what would happen if we identified positive intangibles on the job and made a point to acknowledge good deeds and special attributes. Instead of just thanking Kelly for meeting deadline, what if you also thanked her for the smile and energy she always brings to the job? Instead of limiting Kevin’s praise to the results of a client meeting, what if you added an additional pat on the back for his calm professionalism when working under the gun?

If this is a bit too touchy-feely for you, reframe the thanks-giving concept as a business process with the goals of enhancing business relationships and increasing positive behavior. Whatever your motivation, the act of giving thanks, at the dinner table or the conference table, benefits both the giver and the receiver.

The following are some simple ways to acknowledge an employee and to say thanks, sometimes without ever saying the words “thank you.”

Just say hello. Most employees, even those in small offices, feel disconnected from managers and, in particular, top tier executives. They wonder if you even know they exist, much less if you know what to thank them for. Next time you walk into the office, stop—no tossing out a hello as you hurry past—and greet by name the first person you see. (If you don’t know his name, then you’ve got some homework to do.) Ask how he’s doing and actually listen to the response. If all you get is “fine,” that’s okay; you’ve acknowledged him and made an initial connection. If you see something positive to comment on—say, his work area is very organized—tell him you’ve noticed. Even brief conversations show others we appreciate them.

Expand your circle. Your next step is to know your employees’ job titles (in large organizations, you might start with knowing their department), what their jobs entail and what stands out about that person. And, if you’ve heard she does charity work or bakes cookies for the office, talk with her about her interests or thank her for the treats. Show her she’s valued both as an employee and as an individual by spending a few minutes just chatting about non-work related topics.

Also, let them know you. I’m not advocating a tell-all session about your love life or recent hair transplant. I’m suggesting that you share “personal” information to help bridge any communication gaps and plant seeds for future conversations. Share a story about your pet or a proud parent moment, or mention a trip you’re planning. Quality time with the boss can be the biggest thanks of all.

Share success. Smart managers know that you must share success. A manager that hoards the accolades and never says thanks for a job well done is just asking for the job not to be well done next time. Most managers are pretty good at saying individual thanks. But sometimes a whole department or the entire firm needs to be thanked. If the group is small, thank each person separately. It may take a bit of time, but it’s time well spent. If the group is large, collective thanks are in order. Don’t limit your appreciation to goals achieved—those are only part of a strong workforce equation; also, focus on positive intangibles, such as a can-do attitude, great team spirit, high energy, determination, support and leadership, and acts of kindness.

Get creative. A heartfelt “thank you so much!” is hard to beat, but you can make it more fun. Take a lesson from youth sports teams that frequently hand out funny, individual certificates at the end of the season. I remember my young son getting one for “Most Enthusiastic Teammate” because he could yell louder than anyone (lucky me) and loved cheering for his buddies. Consider what makes each employee special—a great and frequent smile, good listening, someone who’s always there to help when needed or who can diffuse even the most stressful situation. If certificates aren’t your thing, newsletters highlighting employees, e-mails publicly spreading thanks and celebration get-togethers work very well.

The winning recipe is simple: Make easy connections by just saying hello, take the time to get to know your employees and let them get to know you, show your appreciation for the many facets that make up each individual, and make it fun by getting creative. You may just find that you enjoy thanks-giving as much as those around you enjoy thanks-getting.

Kramer, an HR consultant, is a contributing writer.
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