Creating a Culture of Appreciation – Thank you goes a long way

by boltron
by boltron

As I was wracking my brain trying to think of interesting topics to write about for this week’s blogs, it came to me, a subject which is a sore spot and a pet peeve of mine – the fact that people don’t say “thank you” very often on projects, or in everyday business situations much (except in Sales, when they are closing a big deal and a lot of money is involved.)

We should strive to create a culture of collaboration and appreciation as Project Managers, in my humble opinion. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been in a tight spot in difficult, challenging projects where both the sponsor and management team is breathing down my neck to stay on schedule and hit a critical milestone and then having to rely on the relationships I’ve cultivated to come through and deliver … and ultimately being sincerely grateful for all the effort and hard work put forth by the project team members.

In fact, I’ve actually gotten reprimanded for thanking people too much – if such a thing is possible.

This happened at a billion-dollar Fortune 500 company while I was managing some database migration and conversion projects. The databases in question were owned by various functional groups, which were siloed; they followed different processes and procedures, as well as having different support staff, just to make things interesting.

Everything was going along swimmingly project-wise until my counterpart on the Technology side of the house dropped the ball and forgot to fill out some critical paperwork to have some IDs set up on the test box so we could run some scripts and do testing over the weekend. I frantically tracked down the necessary resources, filled out the forms, and coaxed folks into doing the work after 6:00 pm. on a Friday night.

It was a small miracle, but thanks to Gerard, Sally, and Liz on the Info Security team, we were able to conduct testing, which went off without a hitch. I was so grateful to them that on Monday, I wrote each of their managers an email, saying “You’ve got some great people working for you,” and thanking them for going the extra mile after business hours. All of the managers were surprised that someone would actually take the time to give their staff kudos – as Technology Managers, they were more used to getting complaints from their internal clients, not thank-you bouquets! Gerard, Sally, and Liz were thrilled to get the recognition, not only from their direct manager, but their manager’s manager, who I’d cc’ed on the email.

For most of my consulting career at this company, I had been in the habit of thanking people both privately and publicly – and I attribute much of my success to this. Apparently, however, the thank-yous rankled one of the Senior Managers in my group, who had been with the company for over 30 years, and had never worked in Technology. “Lisa, you thank people too much,” I was told. “They shouldn’t be praised for just doing their jobs.” I tried not to be shocked, and tactfully disagreed, explaining that having previously worked as a Database Project Manager myself and having co-managed a DBA group, the request queues were long and never-ending, and there were simply not enough people to do the work. I had dealt daily with multiple complaints about my staff, and no one ever thanked them – not even for staying up for 2 days straight to get critical database systems up and running. Yes, it *was* part of their job, but so much of what we get out of work is not purely based on money; it’s the feeling of being valued for our contributions, of feeling valued as part of the team.

That evening I went home and really wondered about what had transpired. I even started to think that maybe there was something to what the Senior Manager had said. But then I ended up calling an old friend who is an accomplished PM with many years in the business, and he reassured me, “It’s not you, it’s them. What kind of people say you thank people too much? Do you really want to keep working there, in that kind of an environment?” And then he said encouragingly, “You care and it shows – don’t ever change.”

Since that time I have decided that it’s a definitive difference in management styles between the way the Senior Manager ran the group, and how I like to run my projects. I honestly believe people respond so much better to positive motivation, and the carrot works much better than the stick. As Project Managers, our jobs *depend* on other people (the project team members) doing their work – so it behooves us to promote a feeling of trust, collaboration, and appreciation whenever we can on projects.

Oh, and as for me – the highest praise and thanks I can ever receive is to hear my team members say that they would want to work with me again. That’s awesome!


5 thoughts on “Creating a Culture of Appreciation – Thank you goes a long way”

  1. User Avatar

    Great stuff Lisa!

    These things must go in cycles, I just posted “Adam Smith and Ostentatious Avidity in Project Management” which is somewhat related. I imagine the senior exec in your story was somewhat similar to the character in mine… meaning that senior exec probably talked about what “we” did in status meetings instead of naming the individuals specifically who did great work.

    When I’m going through the accomplishments section of a status report, it’s unbelievably important to me that I name the people who contributed to that accomplishment, and usually tell the customer about something specific they did. Not only do you earn trust from your people; it also builds confidence and trust from your customer because you are putting a face/name to the activities.

    Many assume customers just “want the work to get done” and that status reports should be dry and data-driven. But we’re all people, and relationships make the world go round.

    When your customer wants to meet a developer and shake their hand because of your presentation, you are doing something really, really right for everyone involved.

  2. Yes small courtesies are so important when working with others. I like thank you’s during one on one’s too, for specific actions.

    I also like ending retrospectives with appreciations, having the team recognize eachother for specific things they have done. I feel it helps build self organizing teams, to hear recognition from your team mates.

    One thing I learned from Diana Larsen, is that it’s best to answer an appreciation with a simple “Thank you.”

  3. User Avatar

    Jumpin’Geemeenee Crickets on a Pogo Stick, “you say thank you too much”??!! What a ridiculous bit of feedback! As long as your appreciation follows the “3 S” model (Sincere, Specific, Selective) people benefit from someone having the graciousness to appreciate their contributions. A paycheck is not enough to show appreciation, as anyone who has researched motivation in the business world surely knows. In fact, studies of motivation among employees identify “Full appreciation of a job well done.” as the most motivating thing we can do for people at work. The only more ridiculous bits of feedback I’ve ever heard from a manager are:

    1. “You over-serviced the customer.” . . . when I provided great customer service to our customers at “a big Fortune 500” company. Apparently I set the standard too high for my colleagues to meet. But I asserted “Hey, it’s not my standard of quality, it’s the standard of the founders, buddy! Read “In Search of Excellence”, for cryin’ out loud!

    2. My friend received feedback on her annual evaluation that she was “too enthusiastic”, which prompted us to speculate that her performance improvement plan would be “to become less enthusiastic”.

    Nevermind. Keep soaring with the eagles, and leave the buzzards to themselves.

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