Leaders Acknowledge Contributions

What may start as a trusting relationship often erodes when people take each other for granted. For example, higher turnover rates among employees can sometimes signal a lack of appropriate recognition. While taking people for granted happens regularly in organizations, it also has adverse effects on productivity. When leaders fail to acknowledge the value and contributions of followers, it doesn’t take long for them to stop contributing.

Being Motivated by Hearing What You do Right

For leaders to build a foundation of trust requires not only giving people meaningful work to do but also treating them well as they do it. An important part of treating people well is acknowledging their contributions. In fact, a 2013 Globoforce study showed that 89 percent of people are more motivated by hearing what they’re doing right than by hearing what they’re doing wrong. Likewise, nearly 80 percent of study participants looked for recognition to be given close to the time they performed.   In nonprofit fundraising recognizing and appreciating donors and volunteers for their contributions is key to retention.

John Wooden is arguably the most successful college basketball coach ever. In the 1960’s and 70’s he guided UCLA to an incredible ten national championships in eleven years. When I interviewed Coach Wooden, he noted that it was essential to acknowledge the contributions of all players on his team, regardless of how small their role was. He illustrated this point by sharing an analogy he used with his players,

“I would say, we’re like a powerful automobile and this player…Jabbar, is the powerful engine. You now, are only a wheel; and you over here are only a nut that holds that wheel on. Now which is most important? What good is that engine if we don’t have wheels? What if you don’t have the nuts holding that wheel on? You also need somebody behind that wheel directing or you’ll go in circles. You all have an important part. I made a special effort at practice to let those who aren’t playing very much know how much I appreciated them.”

Receiving Recognition Beyond the Ordinary

Appropriate recognition comes in many forms, but to be effective occasionally it should go beyond the ordinary. Sometimes that means allowing contributors to share in the profits. For example, San Antonio Shoe Company in Pittsfield, Maine made national news one year when owners of the privately held companies recognized employees in a special way. Right before Christmas the management team gathered employees and announced that they’d receive a one-time bonus. Each employee would receive $1,000 for every year of continuous service. In their announcement, they thanked employees for their loyalty and dedication and for helping make San Antonio Shoe Company a success.

In the case of one married couple, each spouse had worked for the company for 19 years, which meant together they received $38,000. While that level of profit sharing is not always possible, in this case it went a long way towards acknowledging the contributions of workers and building good will and trust. In fact, the company website says, “San Antonio Shoemakers has built the company around appreciating and respecting our workers.”

In other words, appreciation and respect are keys to their success. Getting more from relationships requires giving more, and when people begin to trust and give freely they move out of the realm of contracts and into the realm of covenants. Certainly, covenants are far more complicated than contracts. They require leader and follower willingness to trust one another and give rather than just receive from the relationship. In essence, it means acknowledging contributions of each other, but it also means sharing talents, resources, problems and even revenues in ways that create a culture of mutual trust and productivity. As fundraising consultants, we advise our clients to create covenants with donors, staff and volunteers to build engagement and retention.