Encouragement goes a long way to motivate and retain employees. In fact, Encouragement can be more effective than a salary increase. It costs so little, yet managers don’t do it often enough. Many supervisors wait six months to a year to discuss their subordinates’ performance. Several avoid it as long as possible. Why? My experience suggests many people see this exercise as confrontational, instead of a path to excellence. I stressed to my direct reports that I failed as their manager if they heard something new from me in a formal performance appraisal session.
In my early years climbing the corporate ladder, I had two or three yearly reviews. I remember one thing from those reviews. My boss told me I must never assume people grasped information and concepts at the same pace as I did. That’s it! However, I recalled this message many times when I interacted with my direct reports. It helped me communicate more effectively. Besides, it was a great reminder to seek to know the message the other person received when I communicated.
Encouragement means catching someone doing something right
My goal with my direct reports was to catch them doing something right regularly, and to encourage and empower them. I tried to be in continuing dialogue with them about achieving excellence daily. I stayed away from six-monthly or annual reviews.
We all need encouragement. When we don’t get it, and instead receive criticism, that can be harmful. Let me share Richard’s story. I met him about twenty years ago. Richard was the most talented person I had ever met. His furniture manufacturing business produced exquisite stuff. His clients complimented him on the quality of his work. Yet, he complained always of his inadequacy, and was tardy to complete orders. It got so bad that eventually, many of his clients, though willing to pay a premium for his products, stopped buying from him. They could not understand how such a talented person had such low self-esteem; constantly apologizing for problems he alone saw in his workmanship.
Ultimately, he lost his business, became an alcoholic, was addicted to cocaine, and almost lost his life. His distraught family could not understand what was happening. All this for lack of encouragement from someone he trusted.
Encouragement can mean the cup is at least half full
He revealed during counseling he was an excellent student, but never could please his father. Whatever he did, his father always wanted to know why he could not do better. He told his counselor he delayed when he was about to finish a piece of furniture because he became fearful he might not complete it perfectly. His problem: He had no encouragement; his father saw his cup always as half empty.
I had tendencies similar to Richard’s father. When my son was at school, I vowed never to act them out, but I did, sometimes. I told him his grades were unimportant and promised never to look at them; they were a result. Instead, I told him to do his best and I would accept the outcome. Generally, I stuck with my side of this deal. Our discussions about school underscored his effort that he alone judged. In fact, he was harder on himself than I would have been.
Encourage always but avoid political correctness
In business, at home, wherever, seek always to encourage, but avoid evasiveness, and political correctness in the process. At the same time, be transparent and identify shortcomings and deficiencies, humbly, gracefully, and with empathy. Surely, I would feel motivated to perform if my supervisor told me I was doing a good job, and he would work with me to improve a specific area of weakness; I would not, if he said I was an idiot.
Encouragement does not mean you condone sloppy work. It means you focus on the person and try to understand what’s happening in her life that might be affecting performance. Never assume you know why someone is acting as she is. Find the facts and stay with the facts.
Many folks find it difficult to be direct and transparent and point out weaknesses, while encouraging. So, they provide inaccurate feedback. By the grace of God, we can learn to encourage and highlight areas of improvements simultaneously.
© 2017 Michel A Bell
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