What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.
– Burt Bacharach, songwriter, What the World Needs Now
That world includes workplaces, where love most appropriately takes the form of staff recognition.
What brings this to mind is a recent column in Vue Weekly, Edmonton’s alternative weekly newspaper. Columnist Ashley Dryburgh reflected on the power of love to overcome white supremacy in the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer.
One passage particularly resonated with me:
“It means, firstly, that love demands that we do something. Good intentions are not enough. Secondly, that these actions are ongoing. Thirdly, that love is not passive and finally that love is not ill-informed: action in ignorance is not an act of love.”
Each of her four observations about love are equally true when we think about how we let staff know that they are appreciated for what they do:
1. Appreciation demands action. Feeling appreciation for what an employee did doesn’t mean anything if you don’t let that person know how you feel. Express your appreciation with a few words of praise delivered in public or in private. Put your thoughts in writing. Reward the behaviour you appreciate and want to see more of.
2. Recognition needs to be ongoing. During some of my workshop programs, I tell the story of a couple who are sitting in their living room. Both are reading; he a newspaper and she a book, which she puts down before addressing her husband. “You never say you love me.”
He sets aside the newspaper. “I told you I loved you on the day we got married, 30 years ago. If that changes, I will let you know.”
Most of us would agree that this is not a strategy on which to build a long-term relationship. Why then, would we expect it to be any more effective in the workplace? We often welcome newcomers with enthusiasm, telling them how glad we are that they have joined the team. Then nothing—those initial words are followed by years of silence. They never hear any words of appreciation or encouragement. Whether we are talking about love or recognition, silence is never effective. These messages deserve to be repeated.
3. Recognition is never passive. Recognizing staff in ways that recipients will value and feel is meaningful requires effort. You need to know what the person did and why it was important. It also helps if you know the recipients well enough to recognize them in ways that match their interests and recognition preferences.
4. Recognition is not ill-informed. When “recognition” is delivered by someone who does not know the recipient or understand what he/she did, it’s obvious to everyone that the person is just going through the motions. It’s simply an empty ritual.
It reminds me of the 1970’s British television comedy Are You Being Served? which frequently featured visits by the elderly owner of the Grace Brothers to the ladies’ and gentlemen’s clothing department. These visits always took the same form—a ritual, which began with the owner’s words, “You’re all doing very, very well,” to which the staff would respond in unison, “Thank you, Mr. Grace.”
The essential ingredient of staff recognition was missing. To be meaningful, recognition must be motivated by a Genuine sense of appreciation.