Encouragement goes a long way to motivate and retain employees. In fact, encouragement can be more effective than a salary increase. It costs so little, yet managers don’t do it often enough. Many managers will wait six months to a year to discuss their subordinates’ performance. Several managers avoid it as long as possible. Why? My experience suggests many people see this exercise as confrontational, instead of a path to excellence. I stressed to my direct reports that I failed as their manager if they heard something new from me in a formal performance appraisal session.
In my early years climbing the corporate ladder, I had two or three yearly reviews. My boss was encouraging and said many things. But, I remember only one: Never assume people grasp information and concepts at the same pace as I did. That’s it! However, I recall this message many times when I interact with people. It helps me communicate more effectively. It is a great reminder to seek to learn the message the other person receives when I communicate.
Encouragement means catching someone doing something right
My goal with my direct reports in business was to catch them doing something right regularly, and in the process, encourage and empower them. I tried to be in continuing dialogue with them about achieving excellence daily. As well, I gave immediate feedback about areas might need to improve. But most of all, I stayed away from six-monthly or annual reviews because that’s too late to have a major effect on performance.
We all need encouragement. When we don’t get it, and instead receive criticism, that can be harmful. Let me share Richard’s story. I met him about twenty years ago. Richard was the most talented person I had ever met. His furniture manufacturing business produced exquisite stuff. His clients complimented him on the quality of his work. Yet, he complained always of his inadequacy, and was tardy to complete orders. It got so bad that many of his clients, though willing to pay a premium for his products, stopped buying from him. They could not understand how such a talented person had such low self-esteem; constantly apologizing for problems he alone saw in his workmanship.
After a few years, he lost his business, became an alcoholic, was addicted to cocaine. He almost lost his life. His distraught family could not understand what was happening. All this for lack of encouragement from someone he trusted.
Encouragement can mean the cup is at least half full
He revealed during counseling that he was an excellent student, but never could please his father. Whatever he did, his father wanted to know why he could not do better. He told his counselor he delayed when a piece of furniture was almost finished because he became fearful he might not complete it perfectly. His problem: As a boy, he had no encouragement when he needed it because his father saw his cup always as half-empty. Meanwhile, he continued to listen to his dad’s voice “playing in his head.”
Thankfully, Richard’s story has a happy ending. After several counselling sessions, Richard learned to turn off that voice in his head that kept telling him he wasn’t good enough. He healed and started another furniture business that blossomed.
During discussions with Richard, I realized I had tendencies similar to Richard’s father that I quashed when my son was in high school. I vowed never to act them out; though, rarely I did. Mostly, I encouraged him to be his best and accept the result. I told him that his grades resulted from his attitude and effort (behaviour), so he should focus on using his ability to the maximum, and I would not look at his grades. Instead, I would encourage him to do his best, and accept the results (grades). Generally, I stuck with my side of this deal. Our discussions about school dealt with his effort that he alone judged. Not surprisingly, he was harder on himself than I would have been.
Encourage always but avoid political correctness
In business, at home, wherever, seek always to encourage, but avoid evasiveness, and political correctness in the process. At the same time, be transparent and identify shortcomings and deficiencies, humbly, gracefully, and with empathy. Surely, I would feel motivated to perform if my supervisor told me I was doing a good job, and he would work with me to improve a specific area of weakness; I would not, if he said I was an idiot.
Encouragement does not mean you condone sloppy work. It means you focus on the person and try to understand what’s happening in her life that might be affecting performance. Never assume you know why someone is behaving as she behaves. Find the facts, stay with the facts, flee from assumptions.
Many folks find it difficult to be direct and transparent and point out weaknesses, while encouraging. So, they provide inaccurate feedback that merely helps to continue poor performance. That’s unhelpful and dishonouring. By the grace of God, we can learn to encourage and highlight areas of improvements simultaneously.
© 2017 Michel A Bell