Appreciation When Work Is Done Well
People want to feel appreciated when they do their work well. This is about so much more than money. In fact, unless you are working with mercenaries whose primary motivation is money (e.g., many sales people, just-passing-through CEO’s, etc.), money is not a motivator by its presence, but it is a demotivator by its absence and/or inequity.
This is about genuinely, sincerely recognizing people when they do their work well. It is a well- established psychological fact that it is not necessarily the size of the reward or the severity of the punishment that makes feedback effective. It is the immediacy, frequency and specificity with which it is given.
“Immediacy” is about how soon after some achievement or screw-up is the feedback given. When your dog poops on your living room carpet, but four hours go by before you correct them, no beneficial learning occurs. If a rat rings a bell, but it is one hour before they are rewarded with a sugar cube, no beneficial learning occurs. Pausing here, you may be thinking that while this may be true for dogs and rats, it is not true for humans. I will tell you that there is very little evidence that humans track any differently than dogs or rats. When a pitcher, waves off their catcher’s sign, and serves up a hanging curve to a top-of-the-order batter in the bottom of the ninth, in a one run game with runners on second and third, and the batter parks the pitch in a different zip code, but the bad pitch selection isn’t discussed with that pitcher until the off-season during contract negotiations, no beneficial learning occurs. When a person commits a crime, but it takes months to catch them and years to try them, no beneficial learning occurs. When a team member performs some noteworthy accomplishment, but isn’t recognized for it until they receive their annual performance review nine months later, no beneficial learning occurs.
“Frequency” is about how consistently a behavior is rewarded or punished when it is committed. If a desirable behavior is recognized only one out of ten times, or with seeming randomness, no beneficial learning occurs. If your dog brings you a beer from the fridge, but you fail to consistently praise and reward them for doing so, you should plan on getting your own beer. If a criminal knows that their odds of being caught, not to mention being brought to trial and eventually convicted, are low, no beneficial learning occurs. If an employee repeatedly demonstrates some desirable behavior, or repeatedly demonstrates some undesirable behavior, but is recognized for it, or confronted about it, only sporadically, no beneficial learning occurs.
“Specificity” is about how definitive the feedback is. If you aren’t specific in your feedback, your dog will think they are doing well when they bring you a bottle of lemon juice rather than a beer from the fridge. If the charge filed against a person who committed a crime is, “You did an illegal thing,” no beneficial learning occurs. “The reliability and change adaptiveness of that solution you developed for Product XYZ is amazing,” is a lot more meaningful than, “Nice work on Product XYZ,” and a ton more meaningful than, “Good job.” Of course, specificity in feedback means that the leader, or other person giving the feedback, is qualified to comment on the person’s work. Feedback to a major league baseball player about the quality of their hitting, positive or negative, given by someone whose only experience with baseball is from a bar stool watching ESPN game recaps means little. Feedback about the quality of a developer’s code, positive or negative, given by a boss with no coding experience means little.