Creating a Culture of Appreciation

Appreciation can increase employee engagement and business performance


Everyone likes to be appreciated — to know that something about us or what we do is seen, noticed and has an impact on someone else.

Appreciation in this context is more than simply noticing. It means that someone is affected by us or what we do on a physical, emotional or spiritual level; that someone has gone beyond just noticing and considered what impact we are having on them. Appreciation is a connection between the appreciator and the person or thing being appreciated.

I’ve seen this sort of appreciation have an almost magical impact on people, changing the dynamics of a situation from argument and anger to openness and agreement in just a few moments. I think back on all the times I sat in meetings picking apart a colleague’s position that differed from mine, readying my counter-arguments, jaw tightening and pulse racing as I waited for the chance to pounce. Then, if I took a minute to notice and appreciate something about them – the clarity of their presentation, their passion for their viewpoint, their command of the facts – I noticed the aggressive energy drain from my body and I was able to have a dispassionate discussion with them, still disagreeing, perhaps, but feeling closer to them as a well-meaning colleague rather than an interloper bent on my destruction.

Appreciation’s quality of connection, of calling out that connection and explicitly recognizing the validity and impact of the other person or thing changes both the appreciated and the appreciator. It’s harder to view someone as your opponent if they have connected with you in a concrete way.

And yet, appreciation is one of the work world’s rarest commodities. I’ve heard dozens of reason to justify not giving or receiving more appreciation (and used many of them myself over the years). See if any of these are familiar:

  • Too much praise or good feeling will make people lazy.
  • People will think I am buttering them up to get something from them later.
  • I’ll sound insincere if I’m always telling people what I appreciate about them.
  • It’s not macho to give or accept appreciation.
  • I get all the appreciation I need in my paycheck
  • It just sounds stupid.

Most workplaces are starved for appreciation. The closest thing to appreciation many workers get is merit pay increases, employee of the month awards and 20-year-service trophies — rote attempts at behavioral modification so impersonally calculated that they only highlight the lack of meaningful engagement between colleagues.

Appreciation is good business

This is a huge missed opportunity for American business and American workers. Appreciation costs nothing (and is more effective at creating high performance than increasing pay). Appreciation creates real connection between people and increases employee engagement with their jobs. Study after study shows that real connection in the workplace drives better business results. And appreciation is just plain fun and inspiring.

The move from a culture of under-appreciation to one of full appreciation can net big benefits in productivity for the company, and increased satisfaction on and off the job for employees. All it takes is some conscious attention on noticing, appreciating and sharing those appreciations for the things and people we come across every day.

Try this as a first step

Pick a colleague (boss, employee, the person sitting next to you, etc.) and focus your attention on them in your mind. Think about the things they do that help the business or your team. Go beyond the superficial (“Nice tie.”) and focus on what really stands out for you. Notice any body sensations or emotions you have as you appreciate what they do. Then form this mass of appreciation into a sentence like: “I appreciate you for the contribution you make to our team by _________________ .”

That alone should change your state of mind for the better and lead to higher engagement with the object of your appreciation (and everyone else). But to really increase the power, verbally communicate your appreciation to the person involved.

Go find the person you are appreciating and get their attention. (Many attention-averse people will try the Drive-by Appreciation or the Stealth Appreciation as a way to avoid actual connection.) You want this to land.

Take a breath and in one out-breath tell them what you appreciate about them. That’s it — no long speech, no love fest, no insincere panegyrics. Just say what you noticed and appreciated the same way you communicate any other essential business information.

Note that an appreciation is not the same as a thank you. It’s not a pat on the back. It’s not given with any expectation of return.

Let your appreciation sink in for half a beat and then resume your regularly scheduled programming.

You’re on your way to creating a culture of appreciation.

(If you really want to super-charge your culture of appreciation, drop me a line.)


How Corporate Culture Drives Profits

How leadership, vision, values and behavior drive company profits (and create corporate culture).

These days, it’s not unusual to hear investors and others talk about socially responsible investing, seeing a connection between a company’s social behavior and its economic performance. But back in the late 1960s, when Jay Bragdon was a young investment analyst in Boston, such an idea was fantasy. Bragdon decided to take a look at the numbers, and he found that companies that acted in ways that valued the environment, their community and their employees actually performed better than companies that were focused solely on the financial bottom line. It was the start of a line of inquiry that led him, and many others, to recognize the significance of corporate cultured for companies, their investors and the global community.

With his paper“Is Pollution Profitable? Environmental Virtue and Reward: Must Stiffer Pollution Controls Hurt Profits?” (co-authored with John Marlin), published in 1972, Bragdon launched a school of thought and an investment paradigm that woke business as usual out of its profits trance. And it wasn’t just a fad. Today Bragdon manages millions for clients based on these principles, encapsulated in his Global LAMP Index, an index of companies that practice what he calls “living asset stewardship.” Last year Bragdon’s LAMP Index produced a total return to investors of 30 percent – significantly higher than its global peer group.

So what is the secret to creating a company that is built on respect for “soft” assets like employees, the natural world and sustainable communities? Bragdon uses the metaphor of an iceberg to illustrate the importance of corporate culture, with the financial results being the veritable tip of the iceberg that we can see (and that so many investors, pundits and cable channels are solely focused on). But below that visible portion of the balance sheet lies the bulk of what is happening, the ballast upon which those results float.

What really drives business profits

At the deepest layer are the beliefs that guide the company’s leaders and other employees — basic things like “we believe people are more important than money.” Built upon that is the foundational layer of vision and values — ideas like connecting with nature as a source of inspiration, or governance by a code of ethics instead of expedience. Next up toward the surface are the structures that express these beliefs and values in the company — the HR evaluation systems, or accounting that factors in external costs like carbon emissions. Then, at the level just below the surface, are the actual behaviors of everyone in the company and the company itself — how the company treats employees; how it selects vendors in a way that reduces carbon emissions or safeguards worker health, how colleagues work out differences in meetings, etc.

Taken as a whole, these “under the surface” corporate qualities make up the culture that infuses the company and its employees’ minute-by-minute actions and experiences. This is why culture is so very important.

What’s most amazing about this model is not that it so simply captures the essence of a corporation and how those essential qualities and actions affect profits, but also that the companies that explicitly think about this and put people and the earth first also do very well financially.

In the years ahead, when increasing turbulence and competition have a greater impact on corporate profits, this way of looking at business will be increasingly valuable. It’s a gold-plated wakeup call for companies to consciously choose their culture and create the beliefs, vision and practices that support it.

What’s your corporate culture?

Challenge question: can you describe your company’s culture in one out-breath right now? If you can, take a bow and enjoy it. If you have to think about it, or it doesn’t feel like what you experience every day, congratulations — you’ve just taken the first step to creating the culture that you really want.

Image credit: Jay Bragdon, Global LAMP Index