During a coaching session with one of my culture change clients, the president of the organization told me that he’d recently had an epiphany (we love it when that happens!). Lee said, “I’ve been a manager for 30 years. All that time I thought my job was to manage processes and results. This culture change journey has helped me redefine my job. Today, my job is to manage people’s energy.

Lee and I talked for some time (and continue to do so today) about HOW Lee makes this shift. Today, Lee consciously refines his emphasis, his language, and his behaviors so that his interactions with followers across the company lead them to feel trusted, honored, and respected. He continues to thank them for their contributions to the organization’s success, as well.

Most senior leaders in Western organizations see their jobs like Lee did: managing processes and results. It’s no surprise that senior leaders do that, as they have been trained for decades by their bosses, stakeholders, and even Wall Street to deliver results, no matter what the human costs. This philosophy leads leaders to focus on what people are doing WRONG – to catch them at it (sometimes with a “gotcha” attitude), correct the problem, then move on to find someone else doing something wrong . . . and the cycle continues, day in and day out.

Our view at Blanchard is much different: leaders need to inspire followers with clear vision, formal goals, meaningful work, and a culture of gratitude (and even fun). Leaders need to manage by wandering around, looking for things that are working, and catch people doing things RIGHT – with on-the-spot praising and encouragement.

Two Proven Approaches to Catching People Doing Things Right

  1. Planned Spontaneous Recognition – Bob Lorber, a member of Blanchard’s board of directors, shared this best practice with us. Years ago Bob was impressed by a third-shift supervisor who transformed his team from the worst performing group to the best in less than a year. The supervisor, Sid, clarified performance expectations, monitored performance daily, and frequently praised and encouraged workers to help them stay on track.As performance improved, Sid added this new twist to his communications with his team. Every day while driving in to work, Sid would decide what he was going to look for that day. In his manufacturing environment, it might have been clean & safe work spaces or efficiency or information sharing, etc. Then, as Sid saw that “benefit” being demonstrated that day, he’d spring the “gift” on that team member or the group. It might be pizza for lunch one day or ice cream sundaes or movie tickets . . . whatever. Sid told Bob that he planned what he was going to look for and what he was going to “gift,” but it looked and felt to the team like it was completely spontaneous. Sid’s actions improved performance and commitment on the part of every team member.
  2. Six Pennies – I learned about this mechanism from one of my best bosses, Jerry Nutter. At the time, Jerry was the CEO of a large full-facility YMCA with child care, fitness programs, racquetball, indoor pool, etc. Jerry knew staff were doing great things every day with members – and that he’d miss those things if he was tied to his desk. Each workday morning, Jerry would put six pennies in his right front pants pocket. For an hour, he’d tour around the facility, looking for people doing things right. When he found one, he’d wait for the appropriate moment to pull them aside, praise what he saw, thank them, and move on. In two minutes, he validated their contribution and commitment.As he left, he’d take a penny from his right front pocket and move to his left front pocket.He kept meandering through the facility until he’d delivered at least six praisings in that hour. In the afternoon, Jerry would spend another hour again, praising RIGHT actions, moving pennies from his left to his right pocket. Jerry’s staff (I was one of them) LOVED him – they genuinely felt trusted, respected, and honored.

Your staff do a great number of things right every day. Stop and notice! You will enjoy better performance and better relationships when you catch people doing things right.

How do you ensure that you’re paying attention and validating team members that are doing things right? Add your thoughts in the comments section below!

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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