Make it a habit to give thanks

RON ASHKE­NAS

Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

While the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day in the US was widely cel­e­brated with sports events, fam­ily din­ners and time off from work, its real pur­pose is to ref lect on ev­ery­thing that we have to be thank­ful for – such as health, fam­ily, ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions and gen­eral success. It is also a good re­minder that thank­ful­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion are im­por­tant man­age­rial be­hav­iours in ef­fec­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions – be­hav­iours that need to be fos­tered through­out the year, not just when there’s a hol­i­day. THERE ARE AC­TU­ALLY TWO KINDS OF AP­PRE­CIA­TIVE BE­HAV­IOURS THAT MAN­AGERS NEED TO DE­VELOP: IN­TER­PER­SONAL AND OR­GAN­I­SA­TIONAL. In­ter­per­sonal ap­pre­ci­a­tion is the day-to-day abil­ity to gen­uinely and gra­ciously thank other peo­ple for what they do. This may sound like ba­sic eti­quette, and we as­sume it’s the ba­sis for most of our in­ter­ac­tions in or­gan­i­sa­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s a be­hav­iour that’s too of­ten for­got­ten in the heat of bat­tle, the ten­sion of dead­lines or the rou­tine per­for­mance of repet­i­tive tasks. In fact, many man­agers seem to think that a salary and a steady job are the only thanks that sub­or­di­nates need.

The re­al­ity is that all of us need af­fir­ma­tion and pos­i­tive feed­back, at least oc­ca­sion­ally. With­out it, it’s easy to lose cues and more likely to mimic or take them on. At the same time, they will also be deal­ing with greater lev­els of stress and fear be­cause of your po­si­tion of author­ity over them.

If you want to ex­plic­itly help oth­ers with their emo­tions, think twice about jump­ing in to fix their prob­lems or telling self-con­fi­dence (“Did I make the right call?”) or be­come cyn­i­cal (“No­body cares whether or not I work hard”). More im­por­tantly, with­out some mea­sure of day-to-day ap­pre­ci­a­tion it’s dif­fi­cult to build re­la­tion­ships and trust, which are es­sen­tial to a well-func­tion­ing work­place.

In fair­ness to man­agers, ne­glect­ing to per­son­ally thank em­ploy­ees is usu­ally un­in­ten­tional, par­tic­u­larly for the busy and over­whelmed. When some­one points out to them that a “thank you” is needed, they usu­ally com­ply. The chal­lenge, though, is how to make the process of giv­ing thanks more rou­tine, so that it oc­curs with­out a re­minder. One way to do this is to build a “thanks step” into your project plans; an­other is to pe­ri­od­i­cally bring your team to­gether to cel­e­brate a nd ap­pre­ci­ate what ’s been ac­com­plished. And of course, as some man­agers do, you can al­ways put a Post-it note on your desk as a re­minder to say “thank you”. THE SEC­OND TYPE OF THANKS­GIV­ING is ap­pre­ci­at­ing how ef­fec­tively your or­gan­i­sa­tion solves prob­lems and gets things done. Many man­agers have a ten­dency to fo­cus on the things that are not work­ing well, the short­falls and the them that you’re there to help. Look for ways to help peo­ple see for them­selves that things will turn out okay, pro­vide a shoul­der to lean on when re­quested and of­fer ad­vice in­di­rectly with­out call­ing at­ten­tion to the fact that they seem to be buck­ling un­der the pres­sures of a tough day at the of­fice. misses. On the other hand, much of the power and po­ten­tial in or­gan­i­sa­tions are re­vealed by its success sto­ries. By iden­ti­fy­ing th­ese vi­gnettes and shin­ing a spot­light on them, man­agers can help tease out im­por­tant lessons, re­in­force in­no­va­tion and un­lock tremen­dous value. The ap­pre­cia­tive in­quiry move­ment, started by my former col­leagues at Case West­ern Re­serve Univer­sity, has demon­strated that this ap­proach can­not only im­prove cor­po­rate func­tion­ing, but also fa­cil­i­tate so­cial in­no­va­tion. Sim­i­larly, an ap­proach called pos­i­tive de­viance shows that find­ing peo­ple who suc­ceed, when ev­ery­one else is strug­gling, can be key to largescale in­no­va­tion.

It’s won­der­ful to have a hol­i­day ded­i­cated to giv­ing thanks. But per­haps if all of us were more thank­ful and ap­pre­cia­tive through­out the year, we’d have much more to be thank­ful for.

Ron Ashke­nas is a man­ag­ing part­ner of Schaf­fer Con­sult­ing and a co-au­thor of The GE Work-Out and The Bound­ary­less Or­ga­ni­za­tion. His lat­est book is Sim­ply Ef­fec­tive.

© 2012 Har­vard Busi­ness School Pub­lish­ing Corp. Dis­trib­uted by The New York Times Syn­di­cate.

Kevin Och­sner is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of grad­u­ate stud­ies in the de­part­ment of psychology at Columbia Univer­sity and heads its So­cial Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Lab.

© 2012 Har­vard Busi­ness School Pub­lish­ing Corp. Dis­trib­uted by The New York Times Syn­di­cate.

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