Boise State on Business by Gundars Kaupins

Professor of management, College of Business and Economics at Boise State UniversityJuly 23, 2013 

Gundars Kaupins

Oprah Winfrey recently spoke at a Harvard University commencement ceremony about the No. 1 thing she has learned after more than 25 years of doing job and celebrity interviews. After the cameras finish rolling on the interviews, the job candidates and celebrities asked "How did I do?" In other words, they sought validation.

Many employees do not receive the validation they need in their work life. They go on without a hint of affirmation that what they are doing is good or even appreciated. They are just a number or a part in the corporate machinery that can easily be replaced.

The big stuff - great performance appraisals, pay raises, employee of the month awards, and perks such as a company car, larger office and fancier desk would definitely provide validation, but those things might not do a complete job.

As a case in point, two lovers take a romantic dinner at an expensive restaurant on a moonlit night. They talk for a while, stare into each other's eyes and hold hands. He pulls out a surprise by handing her a small rose. She melts. They talk more and finish their meal. He offers to pay for the entire expensive meal. She doesn't melt but expresses her appreciation.

The big stuff, such as paying for the expensive meal, is great. But sometimes it is the little things such as the small rose, eye contact and hand-holding that can be very powerful to validate a person.

There are many little things managers can do to validate employees .

A simple thank you for doing a good job is a good start. Person-to-person is best, but if necessary, phone, email, or video conference confirmation would help too.

The thank you can be enhanced with an attachment such as chocolate, candy, fancy pen or other small object. Little gifts are nice, especially when they are personalized and related to the job well done. They should be provided in addition to the bigger stuff, such as a pay raise.

Having a manager compliment an employee in front of others sounds simple but can send a powerful message to the employee receiving the compliment and to employees hearing the compliment. Here is a manager who is willing to acknowledge great performance to others. Perhaps another employee will be in line for a compliment next time.

One of the greatest little things a manager can do is simply walking around and acknowledging the employee is there. A large organization has special problems when cubicles, distant offices, travel and a heavy workload separate employees. A manager may not see his or her employees for a considerable time. By walking around, a manager can ask how an employee is doing, discover any problems and dare to compliment the employee. This makes the employee more human rather than just a number.

If there is a greater distance - the employee is in China - asking a general question such as "how are you doing?' would be an email approximation of management walking around. In the email, the manager could share what is happening in the department and hopefully find out more details from the distant employee.

In summary, employee validation is important. Pay raises may help, but sometimes it is the little things, such as a thank you, a gift or a compliment in front of others, that can be very powerful.

gkaupins@boisestate.edu

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