Monday, June 11, 2012

Impact of a Timely ‘Attaboy’

Through the years I have been fortunate to have a number of excellent bosses who made very positive contributions to my career. One of them was gifted in a number of ways, but had one shortcoming: He found it difficult to catch someone doing something right.

By that I mean when staff members made errors or failed to carry out his instructions, this boss would be quick to take note – and let them know about it. When they performed well, however, nothing was ever said. No “Thank you,” or “Nice job,” or “Well done.”

Have you caught someone
doing something right lately?
On the Birkman Method motivational assessment tool we use in Leaders Legacy, the non-profit for which I work, it shows I have a fairly high need in the area of Esteem. That is, a need to feel affirmed or valued by people important to me, including those to whom I report. So when I repeatedly got “caught” when I did something unacceptable, but never when I did exactly as requested – or better, it bothered me.

Twice, after my boss’s tendency had persisted for quite a while, I told him – as tactfully as possible – that once in awhile I would appreciate an “attaboy,” kind of a verbal pat on the back. I would appreciate knowing that he had noticed something I had done well.

He paused briefly then replied, “Bob, I’ve never been that kind of person. If you don’t hear anything, assume everything’s OK.”

Maybe it wasn’t intended, but his response struck me with the force of an emotional dagger. What that comment said to me was, “I really don’t care about you – or what you need.”

In management, it’s easy to catch people doing something wrong. We all make mistakes. But it takes diligence, attentiveness – and just plain being interested in other people – to “catch them doing something right” and then to let them know it.

That does not mean you need to lavish praise on people all the time, but it’s amazing the impact a well-timed “attaboy” (or “attagirl”) can have.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs, perhaps the greatest collection of wisdom ever compiled, makes many observations about the power of speech. Here are two examples of when it’s used well: “A man find joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:23), and “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

So when you happen to catch someone doing something right, maybe in a store, where you work, and especially in your home, let them know they’ve been “caught.”


Gary Brose said...

Bob - You are spot on. For years I was that boss who commented on the wrong things and told folks that if they heard nothing that meant they were doing it right. Then one day I saw a dispatcher at my delivery company give a job to a driver and then remind him verbally of an unusual sticky detail. I was so happy that he did that, that I immediately commented saying something like "Yes! Exactly! When you see some weird detail that might get overlooked, be sure to comment on it as you did. And when you do it over the air (broadcasting to all drivers), you remind everyone else too. You did that perfect, Ted." Well, yowza, what a positive response I got. Suddenly I realized that employees sometime do things correctly without realizing it. Now I reinforced that they had done well and I noticed a marked difference in how often that occurred again. So, by catching someone doing something right, you are actually increasing the odds that they and others will repeat that action. Always a good thing!

Bob Tamasy said...

Thank you, Gary, for such a great example! If people in authority did more affirming, and less demeaning, imagine how job satisfaction levels would soar!