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To build high performance, remember the power of ‘Thank you!’

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Christine Riordan

In every workplace and on every team, all people have the innate desire to feel appreciated and valued by others. Leaders of teams—and team members themselves—should work to encourage a culture of appreciation.

High-performing teams have well-defined goals, systems of accountability, clear roles and responsibilities and open communication. Just as important, teams that foster cohesion with a sense of gratitude among team members perform better on a number of dimensions.

Research demonstrates that when employees feel valued, they have high job satisfaction, are willing to work longer hours, engage more productively with co-workers and supervisors, are motivated to do their best and work toward achieving the company’s goals.

The power of gratitude

Google, which sits atop many best-places-to-work lists, fosters feelings of employee value through an open culture that promotes employee input, recognizes performance and encourages personal growth. In a recent interview, CEO Larry Page stated, “My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society.”

Consider the consequences of not fostering a culture of gratitude: A 2012 American Psychological Association (APA) study of more than 1,700 employees found that more than half of all employees intended to search for new jobs because they felt underappreciated and undervalued.

Organizational leaders—including HR—can foster high performance by finding opportunities to say “Thank you!” and giving specific praise to employees in genuine, honest and heartfelt ways. These three specific leadership behaviors can enhance a culture of gratitude:

1. Help others develop

The APA study indicated that 70% of employees feel valued at work when they have opportunities for growth and development. While promotion opportunities within companies may sometimes be limited, you can still invest in team members’ professional development through training, assignment to new and interesting projects, participation on task forces and exposure to new and interesting different areas through cross-training.

Employees frequently have skills that extend beyond the jobs they do. Additionally, skills typically grow over time. Leveraging these broad skill sets can lead to greater engagement and satisfaction.

2. Involve employees

Team members feel valued when they have an opportunity to take part in decision-making, problem-solving, and to use their skills to benefit the organization.

A 2012 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed the importance of employees’ opportunities to use skills and abilities, with 63% of respondents listing the ability to use their skills as the top driver of job satisfaction.

3. Support camaraderie and collegiality

Camaraderie leads to greater job satisfaction and commitment to the organization and doing a job well.

Leaders should foster collegiality, help to eliminate dysfunctional team behaviors and create bonding opportunities that don’t involve work projects. Google famously provides games and toys simply to facilitate entertaining interactions among colleagues. The positive feelings carry over when the colleagues work on projects together.

The 2012 SHRM study found employees’ relationships with their co-workers was the second-highest factor related to their connection and commitment to the organization. Team leaders may also consider using social contracts—explicit agreements on how team members interact—to help shape positive behaviors within their teams.

Taking the time and effort to create a culture that values and appreciates the diversity and similarity within a team can reap great rewards in terms of performance and satisfaction of the entire team.

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Christine Riordan is dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Contact her at (303) 871-4324.

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