Leaders Recognize Performance

A few weeks ago, I was meeting with the senior leadership team of a large, and growing, service company when one of the team members mentioned the importance of recognizing good performance.

One of his colleagues – the oldest and most senior person present, became instantly enraged at this topic and went into a fifteen-minute rant about the world has become soft and weak and providing praise for a job well done was symptomatic of that weakness.

He pointed out that back in the “good old days” people understood and appreciated how lucky and privileged they were to have jobs and that not getting fired was the only praise they needed.

He explained that the job of a manager is to make people “do good, not feel good” and that the requirement for being a good manager is to be a “results producer, not a damn daycare operator.”

He then stormed out of the meeting leaving us with wide-open mouths and great uncertainty as to what to do next.

The meeting ended shortly after and as I was walking to the car, I remembered a blog I had written on July 7, 2012, exactly 7 years and 7 months ago.

I have tried diligently to deliver new material every weeks for the past 10 years and only a two previous occasions have I reposted a previously posted blog. Both times the reposted blog spoke to a recent experience and I feel, in light of the response described above, that blog from way back in 2012, is absolutely necessary to repost here today.

Here it is.

In praise of praise.

 “I’m a great believer in providing recognition. I make a point of doing it all the time. In fact, I do it every two weeks – it’s called a paycheck and there is no damn way I would ever give anybody any form of praise for doing what their paycheck requires them to do. It’s just stupid to think for a moment that we need to praise people for doing their jobs.

“What’s next? Thanking them for showing up to work?”

These words were spoken angrily by a participant at a recent workshop I was facilitating. One of his peers had mentioned she recently read an article expounding on the virtues of providing regular recognition to those deserving of it.

What did her peers think?

She had barely finished asking the question before her colleague began his diatribe. What is written above is not quite a verbatim transcript as he chose to express himself in far more colorful language than I would feel comfortable using on this page.

Like all of us, this manager is absolutely entitled to his opinion and, as we have so frequently discussed on these pages, our opinions represent no more than what we believe to be true and, based on the passion, conviction (and choice of language) he used to express himself, I have no doubt that he believes in the truthfulness of what he said.

Like him, I too have a right to express myself – to say what I believe to be true – and I believe that he couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

Many years ago, Tom Peters a renowned author and management consultant proclaimed that a good manager spends a considerable amount of his/her time mingling with staff in order to catch people doing things right.

He is also, I believe, credited with coming up with a management trait called MBWA – Managing By Walking Around.

An old axiom reminds us, “What gets rewarded gets repeated.”

The conversation that followed this managers outburst was, if anything, enlightening.

Of the 17 other managers at the workshop, 5 others shared his views while the remaining 12 loudly expressed their disagreement.

The arguments became louder and louder with people on both sides animatedly presenting their “facts” to prove their point.

This went on for several minutes until one of the managers put forth a suggestion. She suggested that, as each of them was responsible for managing a similar number of people, all delivering the same services, a simple solution to their polarized positions would be to compare the measurable results of each manager’s unit.

The results were fascinating.

The 13 top producing units were all within touching distance of each other with regard to the results the units were producing.

The bottom 5 units were also all within touching distance of each other; however the gap in deliverables between the lowest of the top 13 units and the highest of the bottom seven units was  substantial.

And of the bottom 5 units 4 were managed by those very same six managers who were loudly protesting the silliness of praising people for a job well done.

The fifth member of that group was a newly promoted manager who had relocated to that region and had taken up her position less than a month earlier.

“Doesn’t mean a damn thing,” were the parting words from one of the members of that group as he stormed out of the room.

We’re all familiar with the term “Positive Reinforcement.”

Positive reinforcement is simply a consequence, and a consequence is simply that which follows an event or behavior.

When we positively reinforce a behavior, we significantly increase the likelihood of it being repeated and it stands to reason that an enormous part of the role of a manager is to increase and improve productivity.

This strongly suggests to me that when we see good performance in action, and we know that praising good performance increases the likelihood of it being repeated, it should be a nonnegotiable, non-optional part of the job to deliver some form of recognition and thereby raise the possibility of that job being repeated.

Again, and again.

It doesn’t take much. No one is suggesting that every good job be rewarded with a trip to Hawaii, but what I am proposing is that taking a moment to recognize good performance and to say “thank you” is a zero cost function that can produce enormous dividends.

Usually when we are told that something that costs nothing can produce enormous returns, we are reminded that when things sound too good to be true, they usually are.

In this case, they aren’t.

A few days after that meeting, I sent a copy of this blog to the senior manager and explained why I disagreed with his viewpoint.

I asked him to contact after reading this blog.

Strangely, I haven’t heard back from him.

Till we read again.

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