Cross the Threshold to Employee Engagement

I call it the “Threshold Test.” It’s the questions we ask ourselves as we enter our workplace, whatever it might be. As we cross the threshold from off-duty to on-the-clock, we ask ourselves, “How much do I matter here? Is my work respected? Am I growing and learning? Do my ideas make a difference?”

Even the most highly qualified contributors in an organization ask themselves those questions. It’s human nature to want to know where we stand.

 

Should people really have to astound us with brilliance or breakthroughs in order to earn applause from the boss?

 

Too often, the very people who could enlighten us, don’t. Managers miss opportunities to engage because they fail to deliver feedback that is sincere, specific and ongoing. Many are more focused on products than people. They are quick to point out flaws because they know their job is to protect the organization and those it serves from mistakes and missteps. But they’re less adept at positive reinforcement for people who truly deserve it. Here are some reasons:

Some bosses say, “If you don’t hear from me, assume you are doing a good job.”

While they may think they’ve put people at ease, I believe it really means,“Consider my neglect a compliment.” (And shudder when you see me coming your way!)

Some managers announce, “I don’t praise people for doing what they’re supposed to do. I praise superior performance.”

In so doing, they miss reinforcing the good work employees deliver each day. Should people really have to astound us with brilliance or breakthroughs in order to earn applause from the boss? How about encouragement when they’re tired or challenged, acknowledgement of genuine effort, and pats on the back for being reliable and professional?

 

Managers miss opportunities to engage because they fail to deliver feedback that is sincere, specific and ongoing

 

Too often, supervisors erase their own praise.

In my book, Work Happy, What Great Bosses Know, I devote several chapters to effective feedback and specifically warn against “Praise Erasers.”

  • They include praise that smacks of control:“See, you did it my way and it’s better.”
  • Or praise that’s condescending: “Gotta love my geek. Always there with the tech solution for me.” 
  • How about praise that’s self-involved: “Great job. Reminds me of a sale I closed two years ago.” 
  • Or praise that’s bait-and-switch: “Loved the way you handled that customer. Hey, I have three projects here for you.”

And then there’s the killer Praise Eraser I call “Big But Syndrome.”

We’ve all heard it. “Nice job, but…” I always remind the managers I teach and coach that the word “but” erasers all the words that come before it. Consider de-coupling praise and criticism when possible. When you can’t….well, (shameless plug alert) check out the all options I share in my book or in my free iTunes U “What Great Bosses Know” podcasts.

 

They are quick to point out flaws because they know their job is to protect the organization and those it serves from mistakes and missteps

 

Employees want feedback. Employers don’t necessarily give it – or give it well. Some are too nice to have a tough talk. Some praise ineffectively. Here’s the good news for employee engagement. Managers can improve their feedback skills. And feedback, as valuable as it is to engagement, is free. Tough economic times may take away the pay and perks we’d like to increase, but at no cost at all, feedback is priceless.

Think about that the next time you cross the threshold to work, leaders. Whose engagement have you fed today?

Connect with Jill

Jill’s background as a TV news director, reporter, anchor and producer inform her teaching on broadcast issues as well as her work with print and online leaders. Jill is the head of Poynter Institute’s leadership and management programs. In addition to teaching leadership styles, conflict resolution, collaboration, coaching, decision making and problem solving, she also teaches in the area of ethics and broadcast journalism. Jill is author of  Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know.

Connect with Jill on Twitter @JillGeisler

Art by  Michael Dobson 

  • http://www.Rideau.com Roy Saunderson

    Well thought out post Jill.

    I especially liked where you say, “Some bosses say, “If you don’t hear from me, assume you are doing a good job.”…and calling it a neglectful compliment.

    Too many leaders and managers create lost recognition opportunities.

    Thanks for reminding us all and sharing your feedback on what it takes to get recognition right.

    Best,

    Roy

  • http://www.branddoc.ie David O’Connor

    Layering on the praise. Great post, you have got me thinking.

    As a brand person I have peen swimming upstream against this all my long life. I, like you, have written reams on the subject. As have others. But the pace of change is zero. What I have come to realise is that to address this issue we need to look to the underlying culture, to understand how leaders are motivated. This culture is not company culture, but society culture.

    In the earliest years we are nurtured with praise, but the moment we hit school; BAM, the deficit model kicks in and stays for life. You are a zero until you prove otherwise.

    This is the culture in which management as leaders and teachers, lead and teach their staff. This culture reinforces and empowers them at every touch-point from the bank to government to stockholders.

    To really achieve what you have so beautifully described, organisations have to untnink their societal conditioning before they rethink their management practices. This process is not cosmetic, it is transformational. Revolutionary. Which is why the failure rate of change projects has not improved since 1996, when John Cotter published his seminal book, leading Change. It stood at 70% then and according to a recent McKinsey report, it stands at 70% now. Wow. All that learning and no change. Why? Because you cannot change behaviour in a sustained way without changing the underlying culture that supports it.

    This may sound defeatist, but it is not. Understanding the problem is a huge step to achieving a solution. Up until now the problem that strategists and consultants were addressing was really only a symptom. If we recognise the effect of societal conditioning, we can build strategies to unthank, rethink and adapt.

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