THE POWER OF APPRECIATION: A 3-part Blog Series – Part 3

Distinguishing Recognition from Appreciation

worthI noticed something while writing the last post. Particularly the question on “recognition practices.” The survey draws a distinction (and the variance proves it) between recognition and feeling valued. In a recent TedX talk, Mike Robbins (author of Focus On the Good Stuff, Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Already Taken, and Nothing Changes Until You Do) discusses how organizations get these terms confused all the time and while related, they are not the same.

Robbins defines recognition as “positive feedback based on results or performance.” This is akin to saying “good job on XXX” or honestly, just “good job” is still recognition (though less specific.) Tom Peters in his book, In Search of Excellence says, “celebrate what you want to see more of.” Makes sense and it’s motivating towards specific behaviors. However, Robbins goes on to say, because recognition is tied to behavior, it is scarce and finite – it’s only meaningful when you have successes and generally it has to come from the top down “for it to really have weight and merit.”

Appreciation on the other hand does not suffer from such limits. As Robbins defines it, appreciation is “more about people – about who they are not just what they do.” He goes on to explain that while recognition is not appropriate and can even be condescending in times of challenge or failure, appreciation is always valued and can lead to higher performance and engagement even when times are tough.

What’s more is how recognition versus feeling valued impacts performance. A study from the Haas Business School at UC-Berkeley showed that when people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more productive than those who didn’t. But what is surprising is how much more productive people become when they simply felt valued and cared for as a human being. According to the study, employees were 43% more productive when they felt valued versus people who didn’t – nearly twice the return by simply giving some either a literal or metaphorical “pat on the back”.

Sure that plaque is nice, the bonuses are good; but as more than one study shows, people will leave all of that behind if they don’t feel valued. Just because you recognize someone’s accomplishment, it doesn’t necessarily make them feel valued.


Here is the beauty of appreciation. It means something to everyone regardless of where it comes from. When my 6-year-old son out of the blue tells me “I am amazing” that hits home. When a colleague says “thank you for just being you,” that means something. When you feel as though someone cares about you as a person, not an employee, it matters.

Yes, we need to encourage and recognize what people do and the contributions they make. Those can be (and have been) systematized, tied directly to performance metrics, and awards, trips, or bonuses are doled out accordingly. But perhaps an often neglected part of our day is taking time to show people we care not about what they can do but rather about who they are as a person, and maybe, just maybe that is the missing ingredient.


–          Genuinely care more for them as a person than what they can offer you or your dept/P2

–          Give them feedback

–          TELL THEM you value you them and why

–          Say “Thank you”

–          Know their interests and be curious

–          Do the “little things” that brighten people’s day

–          Give them access to who you are

–          Invest in their success

–          Compliment them

–          Ask them about their passions

–          Send them links to articles you think they would enjoy

–          Respect their life outside of what they do

–          Tell them you believe in them

–          Listen (I mean, really listen – turn off the phone and close the computer)

–          Give them a card from you

–          Challenge them (followed closely support)

–          Encourage safe failures

–          Tell them more about what is going on

–          Make them accountable (and give them the tools to execute)

–          Support their autonomy

–          Offer to help (then help)

–          Ask for help

–          Take them to lunch, coffee, happy hour

–          Encourage them to appreciate others (and give them some room to do it)

–          Treat them as people (not as “employees”)

–          Be polite

–          Ask them for input

–          Apologize when you are wrong

–          Give them credit






THE POWER OF APPRECIATION: A 3-part Blog Series – Part Two: More than the air we breathe

Part 2 – More than the air we breathe

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”  —Warren Buffett

kayakWhen I first moved to Colorado I was enamored with all the outdoor activities that were possible and I promised myself I would try them all. A number of years ago, I decided that summer would be about learning to whitewater kayak. I had a friend who was a professional kayaker and he offered to take me and a friend out at a nearby creek that was mellow enough we could practice.

A few things to know about whitewater kayaking: Kayaks are small, very small – getting in is difficult and getting out seems nearly impossible. The water in Colorado is cold, like ice-cold – consider it was snow only a few hours ago and this makes sense. And whitewater kayaks tip over easily, very easily. After maybe 15 minutes of paddling, the bow of my kayak caught a little ripple and I learned how all three of those factors can induce immediate panic when you are upside down, underwater, half-way jammed into a plastic coffin. It probably only took a few seconds for me to extricate myself from the boat and resurface but it felt like minutes. And it made me realize how much I appreciated breathing.

All due respect to Mr. Buffet but I think it is more than just noticing the air – I mean I appreciated it. And it’s not just that way with trust or air, it seems to be a theme in most people’s lives. We only seem to appreciate the sun when it’s raining, we only appreciate the rain when everything starts to turn brown, we only appreciate programs and perks when they go away, and a saddening majority of the time we only truly appreciate great people after they have left.


Interestingly, the benefits of employees feeling valued and cared for extend far beyond getting good people to stay and perform well. People who feel valued at work report less stress (25% vs 56% of those who do not feel valued) and better overall psychological health (89% vs. 69%). Even more interesting in how feeling valued correlates to employees’ perception of their company and work culture:

 *percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements Feel valued Do not feel valued Variance
Overall, I am satisfied with the growth and development opportunities offered by my employer 75% 10% -65%
I receive adequate monetary compensation for achievements and contributions at work 70% 17% -53%
Overall, I am satisfied with the recognition practices of my employer 75% 7% -68%
My employer regularly makes changes in response to employee feedback 56% 5% -51%

It’s not just about keeping good people; it’s about making good people better; it’s about improving how we feel about coming to work in the morning, and it’s about gaining a stronger sense of self and self-worth. If you want your company to be awesome, you need to start by being awesome. Want to feel more appreciated? Appreciate people more. Want something to change? Then you need to change what you do. Breathe deeply, appreciate it and use that breath to tell someone how much you value them.



Part 1 – Love ‘em, or Lose ‘em

When I first started dating, my father told me, “don’t ever take a good girl for granted, or  else  someday someone will come along and appreciate what you didn’t.” And I remember  it. Since I met my wife,  I’ve spent the last 12+ years working to help her fall in love with me again every day. We  stick by those who value and appreciate us and we are wise to very quickly leave those who  don’t.

It got me thinking, if we want to hold on to more great employees, are we doing all we can to help them fall in love with us as a company every day? And could that be the simple key to taking a company to the next level?


According to a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association, employees who feel valued were more likely to report feeling engaged, motivated, and less likely to say they were looking to leave. And it didn’t stop there. There were also strong links to how people viewed the other parts of their job including compensation, involvement in decision making, and opportunities for growth and development.

 *percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements Feel valued Do not feel valued Variance
I am motivated to do my very best for my employer 91% 37% -54%
I am enthusiastic about my job 52% 21% -31%
My job inspires me 41% 8% -32%
I have plans to look for another job in the next year 19% 53% +34%
Overall, I am satisfied with my job 92% 29% -63%


And here is the kicker for you NPS (Net Promoter Score) fans

 *percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements Feel valued Do not feel valued Variance
I would recommend my workplace to others as a good place to work 85% 15% -70%


A recent New York Times article indicates an even greater disparity, “Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.” When the costs of losing someone (both tangible and intangible) exceed the value of a position’s annual salary by as much as 50%, we could save $millions simply by appreciating each other more.

So how are you helping your coworkers fall in love with your company each day? We fall in love with the little stuff, the daily expressions that show people we care. If you haven’t told someone they matter today, tomorrow you may realize just how much they did.

Are “leadership skills” overrated?

success-is-not-the-key-to-happiness-happiness-is-the-key-to-success-albert-schweitzerI often find it odd how leadership development is seen by different levels within organizations. Typically the people who hold the purse strings and hire me as a consultant, coach, or facilitator are Director level or above employees and their focus is on teaching the people below them leadership skills. But what I find more often than not is once I begin working with these groups, there also exists a large (but sadly unadmitted) gap with the exact people who hired me. So it got me wondering, am I really teaching things that get people ahead? I mean, after all, if the people at the higher ranks are not displaying better leadership behaviors than those I am training, do leadership skills get you promoted? And is there a difference between being a “leader” and rising into Leadership?

During my career progression I have had the opportunity to work for a number of different companies in a variety of roles. Some have been great experiences, full of good energy, visionary leadership, development opportunities, and recognition and respect. Other experiences have provided great learning on what not to do or how not to be as a colleague. And working in human resource development (talent development, leadership development, organizational development, etc.) they have all be good lessons to learn and contain nuggets of information that I can take to others looking to further their organizations. But perhaps the most profound realization has come in the past few months when I started reflecting on my future career path.

If you had asked me a year ago what my career ambition was I would have said Senior Director or VP at a medium sized company within 5 years. If you asked me now, I’m not sure it would include a title or a time limit. This is for a couple reasons. The first has to do with the evolution of Human Resources/Organizational Development/Talent Management – the same role within these areas at different companies may have very different titles. The other reason I would not include a title is because I have come to realize that being a “leader” and being a Leader (capital “L”) are not always the same. I have known (and worked for) a number of people who are in Leadership roles (Director and up) that I would never work with or for again; on the other hand, I have known lots of “leaders” who I would partner with and follow with passion and dedication, and rarely did these people have any kind of title other than “individual contributor” or at most “functional manager.” So it got me thinking, do I want to become a Leader or be a “leader”?

Being a Leader is all too often just a title or position of authority. Being a “leader” is inspiring, moving, motivating, engaging. Working with a “leader” changes you for the better, inspires you to be better, to want more, to influence more, to change, to welcome that uncomfortable feeling during times of growth and development, to make you think about things differently, and to grow on to do bigger and better things if that is your desire.

When time works out Leaders are also “leaders” but you have to wonder, what comes first? What do you want to be? My fear is many people (like myself in earlier years) aspire to be Leaders and sadly learn the way to get ahead with those above them without getting the support of those around them. They spend the rest of their careers playing catch up or talking downward on how their team needs to be better (without themselves ever admitting they need to be better as well.) That is not what I want. I want to be a “leader”. What comes will come in terms of career progression, but I want to be a successful person first before being a successful professional. That, to me, is inspiring.

Leadership Feedback – Are you asking the wrong people?

product-reviewsWho is the best judge of quality when it comes to a service or product provider, the company selling or the customer? When you look for a product do you just look at the marketing information or do you look at consumer reviews? Do you look at 3rd party expert data? Smart consumers always look at all of it. But when it comes to evaluating talent (especially leadership ability), the typical approach is from the top down, which ignores all the consumer data.

I’ve facilitated a countless number of what most people would call “soft-skills” classes; you know, the people stuff (those soft, squishy, emotional people.) From topics like listening, communicating expectations, providing feedback, coaching, mentoring, conflict resolution, supervisory skills, etc. And more than once, I have had someone say in class that they are “a great [insert skill I am teaching here].” This especially bristles me when it comes to these interpersonal skills because ultimately, it’s not in your authority to judge how good you are – it is up to the other person. The only person who gets to evaluate me as a good listener is the person I am listening to. So why then is “leadership ability” evaluated by the people above them? Shouldn’t the people being led be the authorities on that? After all, if no one is willing to follow you, how can you (or your boss) call you a good leader. You may be a good employee, sure, but being a good leader is only substantiated by those who choose to follow.

Process Triangle

Now, I am not advocating for a complete 180 and have your employees dow you performance reviews entirely and if you want to get a more complete view of someone’s leadership, doesn’t it make sense to get data that speaks to that? This is the whole purpose behind a 360-style review process. If you want know how you are doing influencing and interacting with you senior leaders in the company, ask them. If you want to know how you are as a teammate and collaborative colleague, ask your peers. If you want to know how you are doing as a leader, ask the people you are charged to lead. In fact, when trying to determine your location on a map, the process of using three reference points is called triangulation.

And what if (here is something to think about) what if, your team got to choose their leader? Sure, the execs and bosses get a say in the final candidates but how powerful of a shift would it be to know that you are not only accountable to your boss in your effectiveness as a leader, but also the people you would be leading. How powerful would it be to know that your team voted you as their leader? We do it for public representation, why not for corporate representation as well? If you are constantly seeking feedback from your team then you probably know whether they would pick you or not…and if you are not getting feedback from your team, well, you probably know too.

159701686_winston-churchill-quote-9b-postcardsIt may not be perfect, but as Winston Churchill pointed out, “democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Help me understand how the modern corporate structure is unlike a political system? The purposes may seem different but in the end are we not servants to our customers? If you are a trying to be a leader, just who do you think your customers are? Doesn’t their voice matter?


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Dave Needham is a leadership coach, speaker, and President of PeakAlignment, Inc. He thrives on building awesome workplace cultures and leaders. Contact Dave Needham if you think your workplace could use more “awesome”.


Are successful people happy, or are happy people successful?

success-is-not-the-key-to-happiness-happiness-is-the-key-to-success-albert-schweitzerFocus, trust, perseverance, engagement, incremental effort, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, and loyalty. I don’t question the value of these qualities. But are these a RESULT of success or the CAUSE? And how is your company treating them?

It’s easy to pay these things lip service and say “we need people who embody these qualities” or we put it on the workforce to magically change their existence by telling them to “be” these. Well it doesn’t just happen. But as it turns out there is one thing that can get you all of these wonderful attributes in your workforce. Happiness.

Most companies act as though when they are successful, people will be happy. But actually the statement is backwards, and research proves it. When people are happy, they are successful. The happiness hormone in the human body, oxytocin, produces all of the above qualities. It has been shown to raise trust, increase collaboration, encourage people to take risks, make them more adaptable and accommodating to change, and increases people’s commitment and willingness to give. This brief article in the Wall Street Journal highlights some of the research.

Although sometimes a happy hour is thrown or food is brought in for a random event, how leaders interact and connect with their people on a day-to-day basis has a much bigger impact than such window dressing. Having beer and wine at the quarterly meeting but never asking how your employees are doing and really sitting down with them is like an estranged parent sending a present to their abandoned child. At a point, the presents seem more like an insult than a genuine expression of gratitude. Your employees are not stupid, they know when you really care and when you are only pretending.

Now back to oxytocin. So before anyone asks, no, you cannot buy oxytocin and put it in the water like fluoride. As it turns out though there are some very simple things that produce oxytocin as a natural byproduct and the most wonderful part about all of them – THEY ARE FREE! But here is the rub, they all involve that most fearful of subjects when it comes to executive leadership – feelings. Of the two “f-words” I have thrown around my office, this one is the least accepted. I’ve even been told not to use it with the executives because it makes them uncomfortable. While occasionally, the word “fuck” will get dropped and while it makes some people gasp in surprise, no one has ever said “don’t use that word.” In fact, people react more like the 6-year-old that uses it with their friends for the first time, with giggles and a blushed feeling of embarrassment.  But the word “feelings” tends to elicit reactions of vitriol and distance, the irony of which is not lost on me.

If you’re still reading (and you got past my two f-bombs) you may wonder, “so what are those FREE things I can do to increase oxytocin and get all those wonderful business buzz-words?” Here is a list:

  1. Genuinely listen – and not just about the things YOU care about, listen to the things your employee cares about. Ask them about their dogs, cats, kids, rabbits, hobbies, and sure, business, if you want to keep things sterile. But if you find something THEY are passionate about – listening to them and being interested will flood their system with oxytocin
  2. Say Thank You – it seems simple, but it is often the most missed element of working relationships. Feelings of gratitude and appreciation release stress and how does it do that? By creating oxytocin. And according to LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, it may be the highest ROI tool in a leader’s toolbox.
  3. Physical contact – now, I am sure many of you are cringing at that one. And sure, it’s a tough barrier to break. But hell at least start with a handshake. Once you build a relationship you can do the handshake-to-sideways-hug maneuver that can garner extra oxytocin. Or, if that is a little too over the top yet, consider placing your other hand on top of your normal handshake. A small but powerful gesture. And I am not giving you license to sexually harass your coworkers – if you need to know where that line starts, then you’re probably already creeping out your fellow employees – this is not an excuse to hug the hot chick.
  4. Sing/Dance – yeah, not all of us feel like shaking our groove thang at work but what about using it as a team building exercise? Zappos has a “Dance Revolution” game in their lobby for goodness sake. Karaoke anyone?
  5. Take a Walk – Have a one on one meeting? Go for a walk. This does several things. First, it removes any physical barriers that may be causing a metaphorical one. Second, it removes the power dynamic of your office/my office. Third, it removes people from “the box” which is the office, the cubicle, the conference room, the building and enhances creativity. Fourth, even mild exercise released oxytocin…which in turns makes people more creative at solving problems. Win-win.
  6. Buy them lunch – or coffee, or whatever. And, okay this one costs a little bit of money. But if you do it in conjunction with all the others above it has much better return than if you do it by itself. Plus, if you are ONLY doing this you may be seen as simply trying to “buy your way” back into their circle.
  7. Get connected – Social media, while not AS effective as person-to-person interactions has proven to also raise oxytocin levels. And you don’t have to be BFF’s and LOL all day on Facebook. Even connecting on LinkedIn has a positive impact.

Sure, greed worked for Gordon Gekko, but you sir, are no Gordon Gekko. And unless you forgot the punchline of that movie (and it’s sequel) -he went to jail. Just like Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and a host of others who put money before people. Money is good, yes. Success is admirable, to be certain. And yeah, it may not be your style to show people you care in the ways I listed above but if you are the leader of the company, the only thing that will bring you success OR money is your people. Knowing your particular style is not an excuse to continue being stoic. If your people are happy, your shareholders will be too. Focus on happiness and success will come. Focus on success and you may end up with turnover that leaves you chasing your tail.

To Lead, or Not to Lead, that is the question

A workplace interpretation of Hamlet‘s soliloquy:Royal-Mail-Stamps-RSC-Hamlet


William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tale of tragedy, incest, betrayal, and masquerade – so really, not that different than most people’s life at work. The good people seem to get snuffed, people get promoted simply because they are in good with or related to the boss, understood covenants between individuals are violated, and people pretend to be something they are not to get into a position of advantage. Is it any wonder then that the word “workplace” can summon a feeling of tragedy?

But hang on, before you think this is a negative spin on company existence, it’s not. This is about choice, empowerment, and self-determination. It’s easy to be a victim. The difficulty is realizing you are CHOOSING your situation. I’m not going to post the soliloquy. If you want to view it, take a look here. My aim is to take Hamlet’s quandary and apply it to that of the modern worker who is unhappy in his current situation and how it is a matter of choice whether we stay or go.

The Story

If you are not familiar with Hamlet, the short of it is this:  Hamlet is the young prince of Denmark whose father is killed. His uncle (the former King’s brother) takes the throne and marries Hamlet’s mother (the queen) mere months after Hamlet’s father’s death. Hamlet learns that his father was killed by his uncle and plunges into depression (the soliloquy is the turning point) and emerges angry and resolute to exact justice on the guilty party.  Hamlet pretends to be crazy as he maneuvers to expose the truth and kill his uncle. I’m not going to give away the rest of the story but to suffice to say, it doesn’t end well for pretty much all of the main characters.

Hopefully, our story has a better ending.

The Quandary

During Hamlet’s depression, he contemplates suicide. This is the crux of the “To Be or Not to be” soliloquy. And while hopefully no one reading this is contemplating suicide as a result of their unfortunate working situation, I am sure many of you have considered quitting at some point or another. Which often feels like the final of most final options. Unlike suicide however, we have a chance to continue on and perhaps lead even better lives.

“The undiscovered country….puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of”

There is comfort in the known. Even when what we know is uncomfortable. The human mind is a self-preservation engine and the blackness of the unknown holds danger that we fear what we cannot manage.

“Thus Conscience does make cowards of us all”

We instead choose to stay in a terrible situation that we know and have learned to “deal with” than explore the unknown. But that is the crux of the question of either being or not being, leading or not leading, thriving or not thriving, being courageous or not – every question has a choice. Even the most simple of closed ended questions has more than one answer – yes or no.

“And thus the Native hue of Resolution is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought, and enterprises of great pitch and moment, with this regard their Currents turn awry, and lose the name of Action…”

We think too much. Our natural sense of resolution and commitment, even in moments of great opportunity, are overturned by our negative thoughts that fill the void of the unknown with some undefeatable monster. These negative thoughts are not based in reason, but it is the emotional response to incomprehensibility that sours our resolve. In the moments of great opportunity, we fail to act because we cannot think through to the other side.

And while Hamlet’s story has a tragic ending, he CHOSE not to kill himself and instead endeavored in an even larger attempt to right those things that were wronged. He CHOSE a difficult path with just as much uncertainty. So even when we think we have only two options, sometimes there is a third or fourth.

It takes courage to do something more than just endure. So if you have been to the edge of quitting and chosen time and time again to stay, are you at least choosing to change something? If you have already contemplated quitting, then facing the unknown has been close to your doorstep. Courage is not about blindly stepping into a dangerous situation, it is about trusting yourself to explore the unknown. Optimism is not believing that everything will turn out great regardless of how you interact in the world, it is about knowing that you have a choice in how you interact with the world and you choose to make things as good as you can for you.

Everything we encounter in any given day is a choice. Do you chose to be a player in your own life or a pawn? Do you chose to trust yourself and explore the unknown? Do you choose to make things as good as you can? Do you choose to lead, or not to lead? That is the question.

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Dave Needham is a leadership coach, speaker, and President of PeakAlignment, Inc. He thrives on building awesome workplace cultures and leaders. Contact Dave Needham if you think your workplace could use more “awesome”.