Acknowledging Accomplishment

Read part 1 of this series: The Softer Side of Performance: Authenticity

In today’s fast paced drive for cutting operational and capital costs, restructuring organizations to suit a new strategic direction, working in lean environments, innovating for increased performance etc., staff morale is critical. On the one hand, you could say that having people be engaged in the tasks and objectives in front of them is obvious, but often times I find leaders struggling to maintain the engagement of their people over time and through the challenges this relentless drive for elevated performance brings.

Whilst there are many tools a leader could employ to increase engagement, I want to distinguish ‘acknowledging accomplishments’ as a strong lever for not only keeping morale high but also increasing performance.

Deliberately focusing on what has been accomplished at intervals along the way of a project pays strong dividends. Unfortunately, however, many leaders regard acknowledging accomplishments as a waste of time; deeming that behavior as ‘soft’ and therefore unnecessary or even counter-productive. Some people even believe that if they praise their staff, they could get complacent and take their foot off the pedal and performance will suffer. I had personal experience of working in this kind of environment many years ago. No matter how well I delivered results and accomplishments (and I did) they were brushed over, not acknowledged and then the bar was set even higher. It really did occur as a relentless and thankless environment and the ultimate outcome for me was to leave.

In another scenario familiar to us all, imagine a toddler learning to walk. We know instinctively that to admonish a child for falling down would be silly. What works is for the toddler to be encouraged and acknowledged for the progress they’re making. In that environment, they are encouraged to keep trying. The same thing applies in a working environment; in workplaces where accomplishments are acknowledged, people naturally thrive and want to give their best, and that impacts business performance.

Take a moment to think of a time when you’ve worked in an environment where the context for performance was some version of ‘no matter how much I achieve, it’s never enough’; one of relentless un-appreciation. Now think of a scenario where time was taken to acknowledge and appreciate efforts made. Your experience is likely worlds apart. I’m not saying be inauthentic and call out accomplishments that are unworthy. What I am saying is that you can always find something that you can genuinely acknowledge. It could be as simple as “I appreciated the way you spoke up in our meeting today; you really added to the conversation and I noticed people considering different perspectives. I think we will get a better outcome all round.”

There are two aspects to accomplishment that I want to distinguish; both of which are derived from the Merriam-Webster dictionary which defines accomplishment as:

  1. the successful achievement of something
  2. a special skill or ability gained by practice or training

So there’s the facts or the results that have been delivered and are tangible (you can point to them), and there’s also what you’ve discovered and learned, new relationships you’ve built, etc. that you can take into your future. Both aspects are valuable to acknowledge.

Acknowledging accomplishments in your everyday interactions with people is something you can practice starting now. Try it out and notice what happens. Put aside 5 minutes at the start of your day to reflect on who you could acknowledge for what, then take those actions.  I would expect that the quality of your relationships, be they personal or with your colleagues, will be different. There will be a greater level of affinity and relatedness, your relationships will be richer, more robust and ultimately more effective.

And then there’s the more formal approach when your team is taking on projects that are critical to the business, that haven’t been initiated before.  In that circumstance, you’re taking a risk, moving into unchartered waters. Problems will predictably arise and there’s a risk you’ll fail against your promise.  I would suggest that you will significantly elevate the likelihood of succeeding in your venture if you take the time to regularly acknowledge what’s been accomplished along the way.

In a project context, we would call this activity ‘Conversations for Completion’, the purpose of which is to generate sufficient closure to move forward powerfully. By deliberately focusing on ‘what’s worked well’ and ‘what hasn’t worked so well’ you cover both spaces of the tangible results and what you’ve learned. And by reflecting in those places you also naturally uncover or reveal gaps and hurdles that you now need to focus on, which you may not have identified without this conversation.

The kinds of questions you could ask yourself and others are:

  • What has been accomplished?
  • What results have been delivered to date?
  • What have you learned so far?
  • What are you proud of?

And on that foundation of accomplishment, the natural segue is then to focus attention on the gaps that have been revealed that now need attention. Questions like:

  • What hasn’t gone as well as you’d like?
  • What hasn’t lived up to your expectations?
  • What do we now need to focus on?
  • What obstacles can you see looming that need to be overcome?

So, whether you’re setting out to impact your staff engagement or cause unprecedented business results, one of the most powerful and arguably simplest things you can do is to deliberately consider who and what you can acknowledge as having been accomplished.