November 20, 2015

This BOG Update is brought to you by Rosanne Nelson, MBA, MA/OD, Director of Leadership Development at the ACC.

In a previous organization, about 15 years ago, I was designing leadership development programming for a global manufacturing organization. My role was intentionally ambiguous and far from narrow in terms of the demographic. I distinctly recall meeting with a plant manager in a small Colorado town. He was next in line for a leadership role in the corporate office, and was being groomed from a leadership development perspective. Technically, he was considered an 'average' performer, but his team was uniquely collaborative and thriving in a plant atmosphere that was historically considered 'organizationally challenged' for many years.

We went through the standard performance metrics and measurements, we chatted about his career path and next steps to achieve those goals. And, then, we spent the remainder of the day walking the plant and meeting his team. This proved both enlightening and inspiring on many levels. First, in this particular location, previous safety concerns that once plagued the plant's legacy were replaced with signs that read "no safety issue in 235 days". Second, while attrition was low due to employment options in a small town, morale was noticeably high. And, finally, there was healthy conflict overheard from the plant floor. In a vacuum, these observations are not overly-sophisticated. However, as you look at this scenario from a more holistic view...the picture becomes a bit clearer. There was something special going on under the leadership of this 'average performer', at a once beleaguered drywall plant in that small Colorado town.

In a word: Gratitude. This particular leader was keenly aware of the power of gratitude, and utilized it within every square inch of that plant. He believed strongly that gratitude impacted performance, and he was wise to adhere to that thinking. In fact, according to Jeffery Pfeffer of the Stanford School of Business, 90% of employees improve performance after being praised versus 30% improvement following a more critical approach. There is no shortage of data to reflect the power of gratitude in the workplace.

That said, there is also direct linkage to one's motivators alongside. Seek out the type of praise, positive feedback, affirmation your staff / care team values. Each person operates with a different set of needs. And, "effective leaders are aligned in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence" (Goleman, 1998). Thus, the power of gratitude will go the distance if presented in a consistent, meaningful and authentic fashion.

When people feel truly appreciated for their contributions, results and actions, they give their best, and higher levels of performance are unleashed. In the case of the plant manager, when he came on board, the plant was in disarray. Safety incidents were at an all-time high, and the production channels were fraught with challenges. The drywall materials were still being produced, but the length of time was far out of scope. Just a few years later, those metrics evolved and began to tell a different story.

Our team was asked to visit the plant, in order to assess the organizational health and plant leadership. We were outsiders brought in to look under the hood. Our team met with each member of the plant team and asked two simple questions. First, we asked each employee why they chose to work at that particular plant. Responses varied as you would imagine from: 'small town employer of choice', 'a family connection to the plant', or 'just a job'. Then, we asked each member 'what keeps you here'? The responses were equally diverse; however, there was one thread of consistency. The plant manager appreciates me and values my contributions each day. When pressed further, each member provided a different example of what 'appreciation' looked like for him / her. For some, it was overt praise, for others it was a note sent to corporate on their behalf, or a quiet statement in passing. The key here is: different.

Organizations, manufacturing plants, hospital settings, our local schools...each operate as a system. There are many factors at play each day, some of which are in a leader's control and others that are not. However, there is always one factor that remains in the control of the leader...and that is how he / she expresses gratitude in a consistent, meaningful, and authentic fashion.

On this, the week before Thanksgiving, I encourage you to reach out to your team and ask one question "what do you need to feel appreciated"? I can assure you, your team will tell you...and, the gratitude will be flowing.