Why the gift of a bottle of wine doesn’t always say thank you?

I always dreaded getting a ‘see me’ written in red pen when my teacher at school would mark what I thought was my best work. A few of these comments over the weeks guaranteed my end of term report would have something along the lines of ‘could try harder’. With 40 years passed since those days, I now know they were right.

But who tells you that you could try harder?

Lots has been written about the fact that people stay with a company because they have a great leader and that they will also leave because they have a poor leader. The new reality of how we need to work today is testing that understanding in ways we had never contemplated. I am here to tell you that you can always try harder.

To give you a quick story at this point. In 2013 we tried to run a second office as a satellite of our main office in a large local business centre. This was a strategic business development ploy to create new conversations, rather than something that would enhance our service delivery. It was just 5 miles from our main office, but it may as well have been on the moon! Even though we periodically rotated the staff at the remote office, we found that the people working from there were immediately disconnected from the rest of the team almost as soon as they walked out of the main office door. What caused this to happen?

I read a book a few years ago that spoke of there being five languages of appreciation. In summary these are listed as words of affirmation, quality time with a business leader, acts of service such as helping with a project, tangible gifts and finally physical touch.

So far so good. Now I want you to think about how you personally like to be appreciated. If you are honest with yourself here, you will realise that what you like to receive is different depending on who is giving it to you. If they get it wrong, you will either miss their gratitude or even worse, be offended by their attempt to show appreciation. For example, how would a ‘thank you’ from a member of your team be different to what you would expect to receive from your own boss.

I have seen otherwise clever people create a standardised ‘thank you’ to send to anyone for anything. Typically, something like a cheap bottle of wine with the company’s logo on it. How would this be received by a wine buff? How would this be received by a teetotaller? On balance, this is quite a thoughtless gift. You could certainly try harder.

Exercise – Think about the people in your life and what type of appreciation they would receive the best from you. What would be their primary and secondary preference? Believe me, they won’t all be tangible gifts, but that’s the one we tend to lean on heavily as the answer for all circumstances.

As a quick word of caution, recognition and appreciation are typically delivered for very different reasons. Recognition is usually given for performance. Appreciation however should be more about the person and the efforts that have been made to deliver, irrespective of the performance outcome. Someone who is trying harder than normal deserves your appreciation.

My own primary language of appreciation are words of affirmation. Nothing is better for me than one of my readers or coaching clients congratulating or thanking me for something I have done or helped them with. My secondary language is physical touch and I am the first to offer a handshake or cuddle when the time is right (as you can gather, I miss this method of receiving appreciation).

Returning to the story about our remote office. In hindsight, we really didn’t go out of our way to help them be successful, catch them being awesome and show them gratitude for what they were delivering to the success of the company. We could have tried harder. We needed to have more regular personal check-ins with everyone we put in that office.

You may wonder why I used the above remote office story in this insight article? Well, since March all businesses have been thrown into the need to make remote working deliver for them. But when everyone was forced to be remote there was no ‘head office and us’ disconnected sensation. Many companies are considering smaller offices with greater support for permanent remote working. For this to work, leaders will need to step up and ensure that nobody feels disconnected and that starts by appreciating your team. Yes, you could try harder.

The next four steps to use this in your business.

  • Know your People – You need to know who is on your team to know how to best show your appreciation. This will include both your direct reports and the people you consider your leaders. Most of this you can garner through general discussion.
  • Devote Time – Leaders develop the people that develop the business. If half of your time is not being invested in your people you are not serving them well. You should have no more than 10 direct reports and meet with them every week for at least 30 minutes. By meet with them, virtual is OK but if the person you are leading prefers in person meetings, a socially distanced coffee is easily arranged. Just remember, it’s about them not you!
  • Look for Bright Spots – Look for the things that people do well that provide opportunity for you to show your appreciation. The business will do well if these actions are repeated. If you have not been able to say thank you half a dozen times by Wednesday each week, you are not looking closely enough.
  • Cascade this Learning – Don’t keep it a secret. Once you have mastered appreciation, pass it on. Make sure your leaders know how to thank their direct reports. Your business success will follow.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need more help to follow these steps.

The book and the author

My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Paul White at the HTG Peer Groups (now called the IT Nation Evolve Peer Groups) Leadership Academy day in Florida back in November 2015. We collected our signed copy of his book, but sadly didn’t prioritise reading it until perhaps a year later when it changed so much about how we now think about showing appreciation.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation by Gary Chapman & Paul White (ISBN: 080246176X).