In a recent Tweet, our colleague, Amy Fast, @fastcrayon wrote:
“I too often take for granted that people who consistently demonstrate excellence need and deserve feedback too. . . . We need to take care of our people.”
This is an important lesson in so many ways. We all need affirmation. It is important that we feel appreciated. We need to believe the work we do and the effort we make is observed and valued. Many managers are so focused on looking for things people do wrong and need to improve upon they rarely give positive feedback, even to the best people in their organization.
During the early years of my leadership and organizational development consulting career, I had an opportunity to witness an extreme example of a boss whose total focus was on the things his people did badly. I included this anecdote in a book on Positive Leadership I wrote and self-published in 1980. I used the book as resource material in the many Positive Leadership seminars I gave to the employees of my own organizations, of many of my consulting clients, as well as through the Continuing Education Program of Indiana-Purdue University of Fort Wayne (Now Purdue University of Fort Wayne).. The book was updated and republished in 2013 with the title, The Difference Is You: Power through Positive Leadership[i],.
Here is the excerpt about an owner, who started his business out of his garage and turned it into a multi-million-dollar company:
“I spent some time with the owner of a small but profitable company with only seven employees. The owner was constantly complaining about how difficult it was to get good help.
“No one wants to work anymore!” he cried. “They don’t appreciate what a good thing they have, working here.”
He wore his frustration out where everyone could see, which caused a great deal of consternation among his people.
“I can do every job in the company,” he boasted, “better than my people!”
“I see,” was my reply and then I asked, “How much are you paying these people?”
“Probably close to $200,000 per year,” he responded, in shock as if he had seen that number for the first time. “My God!” he continued, “You would think for that kind of money I could buy some decent help.”
I thought for a moment and then responded, “I think I’ve got a simple solution for you. In fact, it’s so simple I’m surprised you haven’t thought of it yourself.”
He didn’t say anything right away but just looked at me. Finally, he asked, “How much is this going to cost me?”
“Well, it’s such a simple solution I am almost embarrassed to charge you anything at all. But, since I would soon go broke if I gave away free advice, why don’t I bill you for one hour of my time and we will call it even.”
My client was skeptical, but we shook hands on the deal. “Okay! What is this simple solution?”
“Just get rid of all of your staff,” I announced, “and do all the work yourself! You do it better anyway and then you can pocket the $200,000 in payroll costs every year. Heck, in a few years you’ll be able to retire on the money you save.”
Needless to say, my client was not particularly happy with my suggestion and he, “damn sure wasn’t going to pay me for a ridiculous piece of advice like that.”
When he finally calmed down, we discussed his attitudes at some length because it was his attitude that was the problem. He finally acknowledged that he could not be everywhere at once or do all the jobs at the same time and, in fact, after much gnashing of teeth, he admitted that he needed his people. He acknowledged that, in spite of all his knowledge and expertise, he was incapable of running his business by himself.
As we talked about his attitudes, he began to see that the message he conveyed, daily, to his people was that they should be grateful for their jobs and to him for giving them jobs. He routinely conveyed his lack of appreciation for them and his lack of trust and respect for them. Not once had it occurred to him to thank his people or tell them how important their contributions were to the success of his business.”
Sadly, giving formal performance assessments in many businesses and other employment environments has devolved into a grading process that documents success or lack thereof, not unlike the grades we give in our schools and classrooms. When giving performance assessments to adults in the workplace, or to children in school, the focus should be on the two-sided practice of recognizing and celebrating excellence, on the one hand, and identifying learning and development opportunities, on the other. If our focus is on helping people at work or children in school do the best job of which they are capable, master their jobs or subject matter, and learn how to create success for themselves, it is imperative that we do both.
[i] Hawkins, Mel, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership, Createspace (an Amazon format), 2013