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Giving thanks is not just for Thanksgiving

As we move towards the end of the year, a time for reflection, gift giving and, (in the USA) Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to think about the importance of praise, appreciation and celebration.

“People who feel good about themselves produce good results.”

In that key source of management wisdom, One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard emphasises the importance of offering praise which, along with expressing appreciation and celebrating success, is absolutely vital in delivering a great service to colleagues and students, and in reinforcing values and mission.

However, there’s a risk that this really important aspect of our organisational cultures is being disrupted by the transition to remote and hybrid working. As people are together less frequently there’s less opportunity for spontaneous gestures (like cakes on a Friday afternoon) that include everyone, and team members are less likely to just overhear other people being thanked or praised.

So what’s the trick to showing appreciation – especially at a distance?


  1. Be purposeful.

Through my coaching, training and consultancy I’ve worked with managers who use team meetings – both online and in-person – to offer praise, appreciation and celebrate success. Some have it as a separate agenda item, others try to weave it throughout their contributions.

Other leaders use a more analytical approach: each team meeting includes a short ‘lessons learned’ review to assess recent practice and to highlight success factors – and consider their wider adoption.

This public praise and recognition does more to create a positive culture than comments in one-to-one sessions; although we need to consider there may be some staff who prefer more private acknowledgement.

And think strategically: is there a specific behaviour you want to encourage at a specific time? How can you build that into your recognition approach?


  1. “Help people reach their full potential. Catch them doing something right.”

I love this quote from Ken Blanchard; it encapsulates an entire mindset in a few words.

As a manager myself, I remember saying things like “I just overheard you dealing with that phone call. It sounded really difficult, but you handled it well.” But with hybrid and remote working there are fewer opportunities for that passive knowledge we used to get from observations and overheard conversations.

My advice to leaders is to be more systematic.

  • Proactively seek feedback. Contact those colleagues that your team engages with and ask for their thoughts.
  • Use in-office time constructively. Make a point that whenever you are in the office, you are looking out for opportunities to recognise effort and success.

This leads onto my next point:


  1. Acknowledge effort as well as outcomes.

Most outcomes are influenced by multiple people and/or factors; effort and behaviour is individual.

If you want your team members to develop the growth mindset described by Carol Dweck, then get into the habit of offering praise and acknowledgement of their efforts and behaviours, regardless of the eventual outcome.


  1. Make sure you’re being inclusive.

Did you see the footage of the England men’s cricket team celebrating their recent T20 World Cup win? After lifting the cup and jumping up and down together, the captain checked with his two Muslim teammates who stepped to one side before the victory champagne was sprayed around.

As a leader, what can you do to ensure your celebrations are inclusive? That you’re acknowledging success in a way that people really appreciate?

And with hybrid working there’s another issue: how are you ensuring that everyone has a fair opportunity to be identified for praise and recognition? The effects of proximity bias – the mentality of ‘most in sight, most in mind’ – have rocketed with the less consistent contact of hybrid working. Think carefully and take actions to eliminate any unintentional bias that might leave some people feeling unappreciated.


  1. Promote a culture of gratitude.

One manager I was supporting described a highly effective approach she used during covid-enforced remote working: a weekly ‘shout out’ email, just a few lines to recognise individual achievements and say thank you.

And it’s not just about the manager saying thank you. Philip C Watkins states there is “an upward spiral between experiencing and expressing gratitude”, so your compliments and acknowledgements can help build a positive culture where team members are more likely to appreciate each other’s actions and express thanks.

In the spirit of gratitude can I say thank you to everyone involved in the inspiring SDF Festival of Learning.

About the author: Eszter Molnar Mills is Director, management and organisational development specialist at Formium Development. Eszter helps leaders and managers thrive through coaching, facilitation, training and organisational development activities. As an external consultant, she has worked with a wide range of universities in the UK and further afield. Her personal focus is on using strengths and positive approaches to get the best out of people, and helping managers adapt to the unique challenges of hybrid working.