There is this nice, feel-good video that is currently going viral on Social Media. It shows Chris Ulmer, a young teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida - a School for Special Children, beckon his wards one by one every morning. The teacher goes on to say to one boy, "You're an amazing student. I love having you in my class. I think everyone in here loves you." And to the second, "You're funny. You're athletic. You're a great soccer player. You're very smart. You've been doing a great job reading." And so on, one after another to every special boy in his class before sending them off with a high five.
Chris opines that this simple practice helps shape his students’ world view turning them into better human beings. “If they have a mean, jaded teacher, they will think the world is mean and jaded. But if a teacher displays love, harmony and peace, that will become their norm. After a few weeks of this practice, my students started complementing one another consistently. They praise each other for accomplishments as if it was their own," Chris shares in his video.
You can see the body language of each student change from the time Ulmer calls for them to the moment he High Fives the little tots. It is quite evident that as Chris speaks his fine words to them these differently-abled children transform into confident, beautifully square-shouldered, enthusiastic, sprightly butterflies emboldened to take on any challenge that their uniquely special day throws at them.
And therein lay a master class in Management Best practice and one of the finest strategies for Talent Retention. Sincere words of praise from people of authority – Super bosses, direct reporting, team leads, managers and people of significance – Top management, mentors, industry bigwigs, even prominent peers, are known to have a lasting impression on the recipient.
Several studies have shown that many a time, well-deserved compliments that are truly and well-delivered by the management – conveying acknowledgement of good work, recognition of the value the employee brings and appreciation of his talent - rate higher than even salary and perquisites. Moreover, using a public platform or a larger audience to express admiration of a great worker and his admirable output creates stronger bonds, reinforces mutual trust and respect, motivates other team members and instills a higher drive in the recipient.
Compliments and acknowledgements can take varied form. They can be verbal pats on the back in official forums; they can be written affirmation on those formal appraisals; they can also be very visible endorsements of your special talent put up as showpieces for all to see and emulate from.
I was in a closed door once with my General Manager, the Company CFO and the irrepressible Mr. O, owner of the eponymously named chain of hotels, easily considered one of the finest in the world. We were discussing PR budgets, decision-making autonomy, our media engagements and some hairy issues when Mr. O’s eyes rested on the latest issue of Chronicle, the Hotel Newsletter. He quizzed me about how much we spent on it and right away got on the hotline to another hotel GM in his Chain. Without batting an eyelid, he told the gent how ‘our’ Chronicle was the finest in the Chain and produced at a lower cost too. Of course, our GM’s chest swelled with pride but Mr. O won a lifelong fan in me and an employee who would be a Brand Ambassador of his fine Company whether she continued working for him or not. To this day I remain an Oberoi loyalist.
Compliments or recognition of one’s performance must be genuine and sincere; otherwise, it is just meaningless fluff that gets blown away easily without having the desired effect. And it should not always be premeditated, practiced and pro forma. Truthful, honest praise comes straight from the heart and is an instant reaction to a job that has been done well and beyond the brief.
During Australia India New Horizons 1996-97, Australia’s biggest Country Promotion thus far, I was on the media team of Alexander Downer, the then Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Australia. At one of the national Press Conferences held at FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), the Minister was very pleased with the success of the Press meet and the huge number of press folk from prominent media that had gathered there. At the end of the Conference, the Minister turned towards Gai Brodtmann, the Counsellor Public Affairs, who was also the Head of PR & Publicity at the Australian High Commission in India and my immediate boss, to congratulate her for one of the best Media interfaces he had ever experienced. Gai, true to her form and character, got up, turned towards me and told the Minister that she “had nothing to do with it. That it was all my hard work;” in full attendance of the Australian and Indian Government officials and the Mission staff. With that profound gesture, my mentor-for-life, left behind some indelible management lessons for me and all others who were present – lessons in leadership, being secure in one’s own role and position, being proud of one’s team, giving credit where it is due at the right time in the right forum, best techniques in employee motivation and instilling the highest form of accountability in her team mates.
Compliments need not be direct. Sometimes, a fine word let out by your significant others at work that travels back to you is the finest and most promising music that you need to hear to put your best foot forward at all times. I was meeting this journalist friend for lunch and during the course of our conversation, she recounted that she had met my boss at an Art exhibition the gone Sunday and how they got talking about me and how he had such great things to say about the kind of work I did. The fact that I remember the conversation to this day and that what the boss had to say about me still motivates me even when I have had several experiences under my belt since, shows the importance one can attach to such wonderfully inspiring feedback. Fair words of commendation not only serve to be great pick-ups when you are feeling low, but also, always, serve to maintain your confidence in yourself.
Compliments need not always be verbalized. Often times, actions do speak louder than words and leave a stronger mark. I had just joined this hotel as part of the Change Agent team with the mandate to turnaround and present the hotel with a completely new Brand Image and positioning. Before I joined the place, the Owner and the VP & GM had contracted all PR, Communications, Publicity and Advertising work to two agencies – A PR & Image Consultancy and an Advertising Agency. In my introductory briefing session, Pierre Jochem, the VP & GM (who I call my second mentor) thought aloud, “We will keep the agencies for three months. That should allow you enough time to warm up and begin earnest work on the PR roadmap.” We had a catching up meeting on the fourth day in his lovely, glass-walled, mezzanine floor Corner office. Monsieur Jochem, carrying the Guest Services Directory mock-up I had given to him for his review, was happy to note the media coverage that had started to happen (with luck on my side one had got the hotel covered every single day of those first four days). And this is what he uttered to me, “You seem to have achieved what these folks had collectively done in three months. I guess we will just terminate their contracts and let them go. I think this way you will get more work done.”
Yes, this decision went into his report to the owners. After the initial sense of high and euphoria it brought in a higher sense of responsibility in me. Such trust and conviction must always be proved right.
Compliments are the very vocal and visible endorsement of an employee’s good performance that is laudable and to be encouraged. Such validation of commendable work ensures that the employee continues to feel motivated, accountable and responsible. He/she becomes more result-oriented and holds a stronger level of ownership for his role and responsibility; endeavouring to maximize the wins and diminish the fails towards his/her goals achievement.
Compliments are, indeed, one of the finest strategies for retaining good talent and reshaping average work into stellar feats. Use it often, but judiciously. Compliment your team profusely at every given opportunity but with sincerity and deservingly!
So how have compliments helped you perform better and exceed targets? Tell me in your comments.