Want to Really Say Thanks? Make Sure Everyone Truly Gets Recognized

I came across a recent New York Times Corner Office column with Walt Bettinger.

He is the CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation, and shared a powerful lesson he learned as an undergraduate student.

He was enrolled in a business course in his senior year and was laser-focused on maintaining a perfect grade point average. It all came down to the final exam, for which he spent a great deal of time studying and memorizing.

A large lesson from a blank paper

When the day of the exam came, everyone was handed a single sheet of paper. Here’s how Bettinger recounts what happened next:

Both sides were blank. And the professor said, ‘I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?’ And that had a powerful impact.

It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name.”

Chances are that many of us have stories similar to this one, times where we “see” people but don’t often stop to recognize the important work they do.

The impact of those who may not get recognized

I was sharing this story with a colleague whose wife is in the middle of interviewing for a clinical teaching position. These interviews are complex, with many different moving parts and doctors’ schedules to coordinate, all in a short time frame.

She shared with him an observation that I will share with you: Her experience as a candidate was shaped as much by the top-level leaders that she interviewed with, as it was by the hard work of the program and administrative coordinators that made the experience as seamless and polished as possible.

You can be sure she took the time to personally thank everyone involved.

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Together, these stories help us to see the impact and contribution of individuals that may not receive traditional recognition. They are not the star performers, winning contests and bonuses. But they are core to the success of the organization, from providing a clean workspace to the ability to attract top candidates and everything in between.

Connecting with all those around us

These examples help us to see the many different ways we can say “Thank You,” for the contributions and value we see in other people. By themselves, these small moments of recognition can be powerful; when they are scaled to the level of an entire culture of social recognition, the impact can be immense.

After all, taking the time to ask a name, appreciating the hard work behind the scenes- it’s about finding a way to WorkHuman and ultimately connect with and appreciate the people around us.

How does your organization help you recognize the impact that all your co-workers can have?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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