Use your words: the power of telling your team why they're valued

June 25, 2019 Karen Eber

4-minute read

dog holding thank you note

“Have you told them you need their help?”  

I recently posed this question to Adam, a senior leader who’s navigating his organization through some complicated changes that will restructure the business and implement new technology changing the way work is done. Employees are both overwhelmed with the changes and wondering where they will land in the new structure. These has been keeping Adam tossing and turning at night, repeatedly making mental lists. While we were discussing his approach, he mentioned the three people he needed to help him succeed. 

He responded with, “Sure, they know.” 

“Right, but did you tell them why you need them to be successful in this – and what each of them brings that allows for that success? The impact and value they create?” 

“Well, yeah, but not in so many words. In my own way.”

“What would happen if you told each of them what you value about them, specifically why you can’t do this without them, what you are counting on them for, and what you think they will bring to the experience?”

He shrugged and we both laughed.

Don’t underestimate the power of describing someone’s value to them. Even when you work closely with someone, you can help instill strong commitment by telling them what you value most about them. Describe in detail what you admire about them – where they stand out. Be specific in what you are counting on them for and why they’re the right one to do the work. Be genuine when doing so and they’ll likely feel flattered for the specific reasons you cite. 

Why recognition matters

When things get tough, employees will know exactly why they need to be there and why they need to push through on a given challenge. So much of our own development and grit comes from our own inner dialogue and pep talks. Sometimes the best development you can do for yourself and your team is to give them heartfelt words of recognition for the impact they create and why you need them. This helps people frame that inner dialogue and motivation.

Sometimes the best development you can do for yourself and your team is to give them heartfelt words of recognition ...

Empathy and recognition are two important leadership tools. Employees want to feel seen by their leaders that their strengths and contributions are understood. When a leader can demonstrate this to an employee, she flourishes. She is more engaged, performs more strongly, and demonstrates stronger commitment to the leader, even during challenging times. This recognition only costs time and thoughtfulness. A handwritten note, thoughtful email or describing to someone the impact they create can lift people out of their day-to-day routine and have great impact.

A few years ago, I had my own personal experience with this. I was working on a high-profile, strategic transformation project. People were resisting the changes and it was difficult to move forward with daily obstacles. I was growing frustrated and spent my days doing things I hated. 

My boss saw I was struggling and sat down with me to tell me why she asked me to lead the work. She told me how she wasn’t able to do what I was doing, and she was in awe of my work. She told me why my leadership and skills were key. She pointed out the impact I’d already had and described the impact I would create as the work continued. She put her proverbial arm around me and made me feel seen and valued.

Something shifted for me in that conversation. The work didn’t get easier, but I no longer viewed what I was doing with frustration. I viewed it with purpose. It was clear to me why I was the right one for the work, which made it easier to navigate through resistance and have more patience. I also had new commitment. The finish line moved to the longer term with a renewed sense of purpose. I shifted my perspective from an all-out sprint to managing towards a longer-term outcome. 

Coming out of that experience, I started writing letters to people I hire. I tell them the specific reasons I chose them for the job. I include expectations in the letter – letting them know the outcomes I hope they achieve with their talents. Employees have shared with me years later that they have kept these letters and shared them with family members. It helped them start their roles with clarity and a sense of purpose – all before their first day of work.

Whether you’re a team leader or team member, don’t underestimate the impact of telling people what you value in them and what you need from them. It opens up a constructive dialogue about what each person can contribute. It gives each person a stronger sense of purpose and clarity on their role. It anchors their purpose that helps with personal development and commitment, particularly during challenging times. Done well, it is deeply meaningful and impactful recognition with a great ripple effect.

How can you recognize employees and colleagues with some heartfelt words of their value and what you need from them?

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About the Author

Karen Eber

Karen is a leadership development and culture expert based in Atlanta, GA. She is the owner and founder of Eber Leadership Group. Karen develops leaders and shapes culture leveraging storytelling about moments that matter.

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