Avoiding the Quiet Trap of Appreciation Depletion

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Thanks to Business Management Daily for featuring me in the below article. Original transcript can be found here: https://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/51991/avoiding-the-quiet-trap-of-appreciation-depletion. 

When we watch a puppy push its head forward eagerly at the promise of being scratched by a caring hand, guess what? We're watching ourselves. Walking around in a $400 suit doesn't make us want that gentle head scratch any less.

"Most teams out there are experiencing 'appreciation depletion,'" said Tess Ausman, speaker and CEO of CLT Leads, to a webinar audience recently. "The reason it happens is that we all get so caught up in our routine that we run on auto-pilot. When that occurs, we de-prioritize recognizing and appreciating others.

"Here's how I see it manifested every day with teams: Forgetting to say 'thank you.' Not sending informal shout-outs. Not writing grateful emails or notes. We forget to do these things because we figure  employees already know we appreciate them.

"Let me show you the effect of appreciation depletion," Ausman continued.

"In the beginning, your employee internalizes a lack of appreciation as basically … nothing. It doesn't really matter to them. 'Oh, it's okay that he didn't recognize that I stayed up late to work on this project, or answer emails on my vacation. Hey, he's got a lot on his plate. We're not here to win awards, we're here to get things done.'

"But then, little by little, it starts to eat at them. That neutrality is not a sustainable feeling. It leads to denial: 'I really wish she would say thank you once a while … and that kind of bothers me.' As they think these words, they don't believe it's going to go on forever, or that the oversights are truly getting under their skin.

"The longer this denial is allowed to fester, the greater chance of the employee falling into the dreaded valley of despair. This is where the dark thoughts enter their minds, and start to get shared with their co-workers and loved ones at home. 'I don't matter … my work doesn't matter … the boss doesn't care about what I do.'

"'Nor do I understand anymore,' the employee thinks, 'how my work is connected to the success of the company. The only thing my manager cares about is me showing up on time.'

"Giving feedback takes the employee out of this valley and gets them up to an exploration mindset, in which they see the light at the end of the tunnel and actively seek ways to feel content at work again; they've gotten that energy back. Finally, it leads them to a real commitment to us. But without continuous feedback, they'll slide right back down into the valley.

"But wait … you might think I'm just talking about praise. Not true. Let's look at the difference between praise and positive feedback.

"Positive feedback: 'Hey Tess, when you showed up to the meeting early with a copy of the agenda for everybody, and a very clear set of next steps, we were not only impressed, it allowed us to make three critical decisions that will impact our go-live date. Thank you for always being so focused on preparedness and details.'

"Praise: 'Hey Tess, great job on yesterday's meeting!'

"And Tess thinks, 'Why? Because I had a nice shirt on? Because I spoke clearly?'

"Praise will briefly get someone out of the valley of despair, no question. But it won't always keep them from sliding back into it. Share specific behavior, and connect it to impact."

"Give this feedback verbally, by all means, but you get more bang for the buck if you write it down. Then the person reads it … and reads it again … and again. How many of you save great emails or handwritten cards you get? I have a folder of them.

"Someone who works for you should have one too."

I Coached Them. But It Didn't Work.

You've been coaching an employee and it's not working.

You say things like:

We've been over and over this and she still isn't improving. I thought he understood but a week after our conversation he's still doing the same thing.

What if I shared that the coaching conversation itself isn't actually going to change anything?

 It's just the starting line.

Recently I was working with a manager who was frustrated that his employees would say "I understand" at the end of a coaching conversation but then go back to their desk and keep doing the same thing.

"Do you ask them to restate, in their own words, what they're going to do differently?"

Step 1: During a coaching conversation, the other person should restate what they see as the behavior change they will make. By doing this, they are reframing and rewording what they've heard you say. This is one way it begins to stick.

After a coaching conversation, many managers assume that's all that needs to be done. I mean, we're both adults, right? We talk about it, we agree that change needs to happen, then you go out and do it because that's my expectation.

Umm …. but we're humans too.

So that makes it messy. There are competing priorities. We forget the conversation even happened once we leave work because our personal life takes over. We don't really want to change, so we wait to see if we're going to be held accountable.

 Step 2: After a coaching conversation, follow up regularly. Ask probing questions that encourage the other person to share feelings and thoughts. Asking "where do you think you're struggling?" or "how are you feeling about xxx" or "where do you think you've made progress?" creates meaningful conversation that reinforces the behavior you're expecting and provides a chance to process information differently. Answering these questions takes analysis and evaluation, which means the brain has to draw connections and justify decisions.

Ok done. We've talked about it. I've followed up daily for a week. Surely that's enough effort. I mean, I have a day job and I'm spending too much time on this. 

It can stop here, but the behavior change won't stick. It might stick - for a few weeks, until the next performance conversation, maybe even through that big project the team is working on. But at some point, that person will fall back into their old ways, because they never made it to the most critical part of learning - creation.

Step 3: For as long as it takes, offer support until they are creating new knowledge independently. This could look like:

  •  Coming up with new ideas: You've coached Mark on improving how personable he is with new clients, and without being asked he decides to ask a colleague to help him come up with easy conversation openers and schedules a monthly brainstorm meeting with them.
  • Teaching someone else how to do what they've done. You've coached Sarah on how to manage email more efficiently and after she figures out how to use the rules feature in Outlook, she volunteers to teach the team.

Coaching to achieve true behavior change is tough. It takes thought, effort and follow up. It takes optimism and persistence to see the process through. It takes time. Time that we don't think we have, but then we're back at the starting line, having yet another conversation about the same behavior. Which takes more time.

 And more complaining.