I have attended four funerals in three weeks. Each service, a “celebration of life,” was amazing. I am a better person for having known and loved these people — and for seeing their lives and accomplishments honored so beautifully by their families and friends.
A phrase I heard often from the adult children of each deceased was: “I just lost my biggest cheerleader.” They lost the person who never stopped reminding them of how good they were and the difference their actions were making in the lives of others. They lost the person who made certain they fully appreciated their special gifts and talents, the person who cheered when they succeeded and encouraged them when they failed. They lost the person in whose likeness they strove to be.
As I reflected on that phrase, I thought about the world of work — and the opportunity we have to be the biggest cheerleaders in our companies: leaders who genuinely encourage the best from our people. There are many employees who have lost their “biggest cheerleader” — or worse, may never have known one. We are surrounded by individuals who might be startled to have an authentic conversation with their boss about the difference their effort is making, the impact of their work on the company and others, and their potential to contribute even more.
The idea of “evaluating performance,” or comparing one person’s actions with another’s, precedes time itself. However, the introduction of formal performance review processes traces back to the era of Frederick Winslow Taylor when time and motion studies and quotas were the subject of the renowned first efficiency expert. And the use of performance reviews to motivate people or map out career/development plans is a far more recent concept — and arguably one most companies still don’t have quite right. (And if we think “cheerleading” happens well within our company’s “performance review system”, then we are all in trouble!)
I am not suggesting that we adopt a “cheerleading system of management.” But I continue to be struck by the power of positive reinforcement, in the form of praise, when it is received from someone who is trusted and respected. I continue to believe this is the single greatest, most underleveraged asset in most companies today. If “praise for good performance” were management’s product, I’d say we have a ton of inventory sitting around, warehoused without a plan to distribute it any time soon — and it is costing most companies, dearly.
We can choose to change that, so simply, by recognizing three things:
Praising great performance and offering caring, constructive feedback for less-than-great performance are premium products in every leader’s inventory. Don’t let them sit in the warehouse. Distribute them with a sincere heart.
Feedback is one of the world’s great natural resources, and it does not deplete. The more you give, the more you get back — and the more impact you will have. Catch people doing things right. Coach for improved performance, and recognize the impact of your sincere and caring words.
Be a genuine cheerleader for your organization. People want and treasure a sincere cheerleader — a leader who makes sure you know how good you are — and who lets you know when you need to try harder. Honesty and praise from a respected/trusted leader is worth its weight in gold.
Employees spend more time at work than they do at home. So as leaders, we can help them live richer lives through their work experience.
Down the road, when your life is celebrated, how affirming it would be if your employees remarked, “I just lost my biggest cheerleader.”
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues develop the capability of leaders to cheer the performance of their people, often and well. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.