Acknowledgment is one of those things that you don't think about until you notice it's missing. Last week, I had one of the worst restaurant experiences I can recall. The issue? Lack of acknowledgment. We waited 30 minutes to be served drinks, over an hour for our food, and then, to make things worse, the delays weren't even acknowledged by the staff. The bottom line? Acknowledgment is easily forgotten, but can be a powerful tool in business--marking you as a great leader who can easily motivate others.

Acknowledgment is defined both as expressing the existence of something, and as expressing or displaying the appreciation for something. More often, they go hand in hand. In the above scenario, what I wanted was someone to acknowledge that the service was under par and then provide an expression of gratitude for our patience. As a result, I won't be back.

In an office, it's no different. The leaders who acknowledge others in their existence and appreciate their work are the ones who get followed. So what's the best way to work appreciation into your leadership routine? I decided to speak to an "acknowledgment expert"--Barry Marshall, the chief people officer at the TradeDesk, a platform for media-buying agencies to deliver digital advertising campaigns, who uses acknowledgment as a key tool for motivation and leadership.

How do you know acknowledgment works?

It works because there are studies that prove it. A Globoforce research study in 2013 showed that 89 percent of people are more motivated by being told what they are doing right than by being told what they are doing wrong, and nearly 80 percent looked for this recognition to be given close to the time of the activity. Another study by author [and employee-recognition expert] Bob Nelson showed very similar results and is best summarized by this quote: "You get what you reward."

Can you give an example of how acknowledging someone was directly linked to a positive business result?

By taking the time to acknowledge each individual's ability to contribute to an organization's success, we challenged our recruiting team to think out of the box for unique and cost-efficient ways to increase our candidate pipeline. This led to a number of recommendations from the team, one of which was to collect referrals from candidates when they came in for a round of in-person interviews. As a result of executing this strategy, we added over 20 percent more candidates to our pipeline at no additional cost. By acknowledging these individuals, we created the environment for innovative ideas to emerge.

When hiring, how do you know whether a candidate will provide acknowledgment of others on the job?

There are three ways that I have been able to screen for this behavior. First, I ask people about a "trophy accomplishment" that involved others: How was this success recognized and celebrated? Do they mention the contribution of others, or is it self-oriented?

Second, ask them to describe the composition of their current team, direct and indirect: How do they speak of others? How do they speak of interactions?

Third, ask them what have they recently recognized someone else for.

Who is a great leader that's a role model for acknowledgment?

John Donnelly, the global head of HR at JPMorgan, overseeing 300,000 people. There are two things that make him a great role model. First, when talking to John, despite his position, you have the sense that you are an audience of one. He asks thoughtful questions, carefully listens to the response, and demonstrates an interest in truly connecting with people.

Second, he is generous with his time, traveling to visit staff in other locations, spending time with them, and ensuring he meets with staff who have traveled to the headquarters as well.

What is your favorite acknowledgment story?

Several years ago, as we were launching a new office, we hired a temporary person to support our recruiting process. As with most people I work with, I took the time to speak with her every couple of days and encourage her work. After several months, demonstrating great work and contributing to our positive culture environment, she asked me about applying for one of the roles herself and becoming a full-time employee. While the role was a stretch for her and she didn't have the typical background for it, I knew from our interactions that she was hard-working and would put in the effort to make it work. So I encouraged her to apply and told her to let me know how things were going. She interviewed, got the job, and after a few years, ended up managing a team of her own. She mentioned to me on several occasions the positive impact that acknowledgement had in building her confidence and furthering the success of her own career.

Published on: Mar 23, 2015
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