While yesterday’s dot considered many of the steps that occur in the food chain as they relate to safety, A. J. Jacobs thought about all the people it took to make his cup of coffee possible and approached the topic from a perspective of gratitude. Jacobs set out to thank all those who contributed to his morning cup of java and ended up thanking over 1000 people from all around the world.
If you think about who is involved in providing AJ’s coffee you may list a barista, trucker or farmer – but his list included those who made the asphalt for the road the trucks drove on, the person who provides pest control for the bean storage warehouse and the architect who built it, the person who invented the coffee cup lid and those who made the bean-harvesting machine in Brazil.
Jacobs notes that when something is done well, the process behind it is largely invisible. We don’t spend much time thinking about those who make our food or infrastructure or way of life possible, but focusing intentionally on doing so allows us to savor the experience more fully. As Jacob says, take time to “smell the roses. And the dirt. And the fertilizer.”
See AJ Jacobs’ TED Talk here
Yesterday was Customer Appreciation Day at my local bank – advertised with a big spread in their newsletter inviting me to come and enjoy ice cream at my branch. I had business to transact and it was 90+ degrees so it seemed like a good opportunity to partake in the festivities.
It turned out that “Appreciation Day” was an ice cream machine stuck in the corner that you would only find if you were looking for it. No signs. No balloons. No giveaways. And not even any staff to tend to the table which had gotten quite full of crumbs by the time I arrived.
Businesses have the option as to whether or not to provide an “appreciation day” so it boggles my mind as to why someone would choose to do it but do it so poorly. They would have been far better off either a) doing nothing or b) saying nothing and just having it be a happy accident that a few of today’s customers would stumble upon the ice cream machine. But to make something sound like a big deal and deliver far below is not a good strategy.
If you decide to provide recognition – to your customers, employees, volunteers or any group – think deeply about it before you do it halfway. ‘Tis better to do nothing than to underwhelm.
One of the key things for new hires to learn is who has power beyond those with the official titles. In my Organizational Behavior class students study French and Raven’s five sources of power: Legitimate (positional), Reward, Coercive, Expert and Referent (charisma). They easily grasp four types, but they struggle with providing examples of expert power – unless, of course, they have professional work experience. Then it is easy to identify who has expert power and many times it’s the administrative assistant!
Expert power comes from the individual’s knowledge or skill, irrespective of their position, that is valuable to others. At times, a person may gain expert power from credentials or experience, but often the organizational experts are those in the support positions that are truly the experts on how the operation runs. Experts may play a role as basic as being the “go-to” person for unjamming the copy machine or possess information as nuanced as knowing how to snag five minutes with the boss. Expert power comes from being the one that others turn to when they get stuck or the one who is the person who can navigate the system like no other. Expert power can also be information power – the one who understands the pieces of the whole and knows what is really happening, not just what is supposed to occur.
Experts play invaluable roles in organizations, yet their contributions are not always recognized or legitimized – until, of source, something goes wrong and no one else knows how to resolve it! Today, celebrate the experts that are your administrative assistants. Acknowledge that their knowledge is often the power that keeps the enterprise humming.
Recently I have heard a growing recognition of the people who make another’s work possible. Some examples:
- The newest Crate & Barrel catalog features three women carpenters and designers on its cover with the headline: She Makes Us Crate. The opening spread is dedicated to the women in the woodshop who build the sets which grace the pages of the catalog.
- In a People magazine interview, Mark Harmon expresses his appreciation for the crew of NICS: “This show represents a livelihood for a whole lot of people who arrive long before I do and leave well after me and don’t get paid nearly as much,” he said.
- The Academy Awards (and other similar shows) give trophies not just to the actors, but to the sound mixer, film editor, set designer, etc. etc. etc. – paying tribute to those behind the scenes.
- When speaking in favor of a Wealth Tax during a stump speech, Elizabeth Warren noted that to make their mega-fortunes business owners relied on roads, bridges, infrastructure and other community services to achieve their wealth and did not earn it all on their own.
Take a moment to think of all those who have made your work possible: the maintenance crews, technology support, central office functions, past colleagues, delivery staff and countless others. More people do their work “behind the scenes” than could ever be on the stage.
Choose someone whose work has allowed you to do yours and show them some appreciation today.
On this Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering how to express your love to those you care about. Author Gary Chapman can help! He has defined five Love Languages that identify preferred ways of receiving affection. Knowing your preferred “Love Language” and that of others may help you to communicate in a way that is most meaningful.
A simple quiz can help you understand which of the five Love Languages resonate most deeply with you:
- Acts of Service: Having someone offer to help and ease your burden
- Quality Time: Someone being present and giving you their full attention
- Receiving Gifts: Receiving a thoughtful token gift that is tailored to your interests
- Physical Touch: Hugs or literal pats on the back
- Words of Affirmation: Hearing someone share why they love you or why you are important
Chapman has also adapted his languages as a guide for how people can express appreciation to others. In his 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, he offers suggestions on how to apply the concepts to show gratitude to coworkers in a way that resonates with them. The quiz could be a fun icebreaker to discuss at your next staff meeting.
Whether or not you know someone’s preferred Language, it’s important to remember that different people favor different ways of receiving affection or appreciation from you. Become conscious of how you deliver your sentiments and mix up the ways you show others you care.
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, 2009
5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White, 2011
As a prize for winning a golf tournament, a local teen received a Wheaties box with his picture on the front. “Back in the day”, having your picture on that box of cereal was just about the ultimate recognition in sports. It was reserved for Olympians, MVPs and All-Stars. It meant something.
But that was in an era before everyone had computers with desktop publishing software. It was time-consuming and expensive to do a mock-up so it was even hard to imagine what your image would look like under the famous Wheaties logo. Today amateurs can put their picture on cereal boxes, magazine covers and movie posters with a green screen or a click of a few computer keys. It takes something away from the specialness of it all.
Take a look at your recognition programs. Are you still offering something that had great meaning at one point but has lost its luster now? Does your demographic truly value the prize that you are providing? It might be time to think outside the box for your rewards.
When a building is first built, there is often a cornerstone placed to commemorate the date of the structure’s origin. How do you acknowledge the ending of a building’s existence?
This was a challenge faced by the recovery and clean-up team after the World Trade Center attacks. After months of excavating and debris removal, the project was coming to an end and the workers needed some way to mark the conclusion of an emotional task. They chose to pay tribute to first responders and others on a cement pillar. The column now resides in the 9-11 Museum as a permanent display.
Recognition can take many forms and certainly does not have to occur on a formal plaque or engraved wall. When you need to acknowledge the efforts of others, remember the adage from Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message,” and ensure that there is congruency between the what you want to say and how you say it. For 9-11, there could be nothing more fitting than spray paint on a cement pillar.