We All Want to Know We Are Making a Difference
In late December 2022, I had surgery at a local hospital in St. Paul, MN. I checked into the hospital at 5:30am. Tricia, the patient registrar, did an excellent job of checking me in. When leaving her cubicle, I said, "It's obvious that you like your job and are very good at it. Thank you for being such a warm and pleasant person." She smiled, tilted her head to the right, and said, "Oh my, I am going to blush. Thank you so much." As we walked to the pre-operative holding area, my wife replied, "You certainly made her day!" Isn't that amazing? A few seconds out of our day can truly make someone else's day!
After changing into my hospital gown, the pre-operative nurse Tina walked in to start my I.V. She had trouble finding a vein, and I could see her become anxious. She tried two times and failed. She shared she started only four days ago and needed to find help. My daughter is a nurse, and I've let her practice on me. When I shared that with Tina, I encouraged her to try again. The third time is a charm! She succeeded and beamed with delight. I said, "Thank you, I knew you could do it." Like many of us, she deflected my compliment by saying, "That's what I get paid to do."
I asked if her leader had recognized her over the last four days. "No, but she has been busy in meetings," she said. I asked, "Would it have been nice to be recognized in the last four days?" She replied, "Yes, starting a new position; who wouldn't have doubts about how they are doing and if their peers accept them."
A visit with the anesthesiologist came next, and the next thing I knew, I awoke in the recovery room. Since no hospital rooms were available immediately, I spent close to 2 hours in recovery talking with the recovery nurse, discussing what she liked and disliked about her position. I soon learned that the recovery nurse was new to her position, as well, and still learning the processes and building relationships. I told the rookie nurse, "Don't feel the least bit guilty if you must ask your trainer any questions. In fact, I encourage you to ask as many questions as you need to. I promise I won't see you as being dumb or stupid. If you don't ask, you don't learn." She smiled and said, "Thank you for saying that, and I will keep that in mind." When I asked how long it's been since she was recognized, she exclaimed, "I can't remember; it's been so long!" For years, this professional has walked around without recognition or knowledge of how they are performing. Do you know what would happen if their leader started to recognize them? They would feel energized! They would feel more excited about coming to work! That cranky patient down the hall may bring down their day less. They may even have a renewed sense of passion for their work!
During my stay, the cleaning crew came to empty the trash bins. After some small talk, I asked, "When was the last time you were recognized at work?" They said sarcastically with a smile, "What's recognition?" and sighed, "I have learned to live without it." How motivated do you think they are to work faster? Or to go out of their way to share an idea for improvement with you?
The medical professional that woke me the following day introduced himself as a CNA. He further explained that he is "not a doctor, not a nurse, just a CNA around here." I thought about what he said all day. Clearly, he did not think highly of himself, had low self-esteem, or felt inferior to others because he was not highly educated. Could recognition from his leader change that? It sure could!
I tell leaders daily that your job title is the only difference between you and your direct contributors. They have a tough job, and you have a tough job. We all want to know we have value. We all want to know we have worth. Yet, some leaders will still say they don't have time to pay someone a compliment because they are too busy. As I tell leaders in the classroom or in my Leadership for Leads digital course, that's a crock! Don't play the role of a victim. It only takes 5 seconds to pay someone a sincere and specific compliment. If leaders don't get around to recognition, they specifically made a choice not to.
Leaders, if you choose not to let your team members know they are making a difference because you are so busy, they may decide not to work faster, harder, and smarter. They may make the ultimate choice of not showing up. Increasingly, employees leave their employers because their leaders don't let them know how they are doing. Recognition is a need. We all like to hear it. Some need to hear it more than others. We All Want to Know If We Are Making a Difference.