I still remember one of my first jobs after moving to New York years ago. My team consisted of about 40 people, and ‘Jack’, the department manager, had developed the unfortunate reputation of being a hard-nose.
It is not that he hated the members on our team - we just felt that way sometimes - because of his constantly pointing out how we could do our job better, accompanied by a perceived lack of appreciation for our efforts.
Fast forward almost 20 years later.
In my current role as a consultant with a number of companies here in Germany, I’ve been conducting research on employee satisfaction and company culture. As I surveyed dozens of professionals working in various fields, one complaint stood far above the rest.
'I just don’t feel appreciated'
Many of the employees I interviewed said that their superiors are quick to let them know what they are doing wrong, but are almost never inclined to tell them what they are doing right.
An accomplished member of one sales team put it this way: "It would be nice to hear the words ‘nice job’ once in a while."
Commendation. Praise. A job well done. Whatever you want to call it, "it" is sorely missing in today’s fast-paced, high-pressure, production-oriented environment.
This is true both in Germany and in English speaking countries, but it shows up in different ways.
Not getting told off is enough
For example, in many companies in America it’s common for workers to receive commendation only when there is also a need for correction - a form of positive/negative feedback sandwich. In this context the positive is often interpreted by the employee as insincere or inauthentic.
In Germany, on the other hand, the prevailing attitude can be summed up with the following phrase: "Nicht schimpfen ist genug gelobt." Loosely translated, this means: "Not getting told off is enough praise."
Further, the German employees I interviewed said that it is very common for individuals in authority to spew out constant correction - even in a public setting. Morale and productivity naturally decline.
But could the key to higher productivity in both cultures be to inspire your workers to be more productive?
What would be the result if your superior said something like the following to you: "Hey, I wanted to tell you something. I know I don’t say it enough – but I really appreciate what you’re doing here. The way you handled that (particular project, client, problem) – it was great."
Sound motivating to you?
I’m not encouraging flattery (defined by Merriam-Webster as "insincere or excessive praise").We all know the feeling many Germans have that Americans (like me) can tend to be superficial.
What I do strongly assert, is that if you take the time to give employees realistic and positive reinforcement - sincere commendation for a true job well done - it will have the following benefits.
Your people will feel important and needed.
The talented Mr Larson
In contrast to "Jack" (mentioned earlier), Mr Larson, a managing director at the same organization, had a much different reputation.
Despite having oversight of about 300 persons, he would come around to see each one of us on our yearly work anniversary with the company.
He usually stuck around and chatted for about five to 10 minutes, and he always amazed me with the interest he showed in us.
Mr Larson also had an open door policy that meant we could speak with him personally if we felt the need. I’m sure many in similar positions feel there are better ways to spend their time. But those little things meant a lot. He made us feel that our work was important to him.
We were important to him.
I’ve found a similar approach beneficial here in Germany. People are people, and sincere appreciation motivates us to work harder.
'Too many Jacks'
It makes receiving correction easier. Many companies here in Germany have ‘Jacks’ running the show. The motives are good - they want to help their teams perform at the highest standard. But often this begins a disconnect between manager and employee and can even contribute to the increasing problem of burnout.
The fact is, no one wants to make mistakes or underperform.
But when that’s the only message we hear, we begin to lose drive. On the other hand, when we are confident that leaders have got our backs, we are much more ready and willing to receive constructive criticism.
So give some thought to your own style of leadership. When’s the last time you told members of your team that you appreciated them? Or told them specifically what you appreciate? A few moments of sincere praise could pay rich dividends for you, your team, and your company.
Justin Bariso is a business coach and consultant based in Frankfurt who helps German executives improve their ability to work globally. Visit his company website here or follow him on Twitter @JustinJBariso.