Complimenting others when they’re not around

When you’re complimenting people you work with or know without them knowing, find a few moments to go back and let them know what you said.

I’ve often heard folks (or, in some cases, me) say some version of – “Of course she knows how much I appreciate her.”

I’ve come to realize that they often don’t know. And, even if they do, a small action like that can have a big impact on their day.

These small things are the big things in the long run.

Get more vs. appreciate more

A delicious custard cake – the kind that melts in your mouth – is wasted on someone who doesn’t take the time to appreciate it. So are beautiful beaches, good teammates, the smell of flowers, supportive partners, good health, and thoughtful managers.

Lacking appreciation, it turns out, makes getting more a leaky bucket problem. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into getting more – it won’t count for much.

We spend large swathes of our day working on skills (productivity, skills that make us better at our jobs) that are directed at helping us get more.

What if we siphoned off a portion of that effort to develop our appreciation skills instead?

Mmm Yummy

Our daughter is going through a phase when she says “Mmm Yummy” every time she eats something she loves. It is an expression of pure, untainted, happiness at getting to eat what she enjoys. It also helps that the bar for what she loves isn’t all that high. :-)

When I saw her do it this morning, I asked myself why I don’t do it more often. Just like her, I’m clearly fortunate enough to eat good food very often. By extension, how often do I find myself saying the equivalent of “Mmm Yummy” when I enjoy the many other gifts – good health, wonderful relationships, this awesome internet, and dedicated colleagues and teams?

I’m vividly reminded of a conversation when a few of us were walking toward a football game a few years back. We saw an extremely fit woman on what looked like a long run and someone remarked – “Wonder why someone that fit needs to run?” Someone else immediately quipped – “It is thanks to these runs that she is extremely fit.”

Similarly, it is tempting for me to draw the conclusion that she says “Mmm Yummy” because she’s happy. In reality, though, it is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.

Purpose and appreciation

Building a culture is hard. This is so because of two reasons. First, there seem to be so many other things that need to get done. And, second, it isn’t clear what you should focus on. There seem to be way too many factors that go into building a culture anyway. While both are true, we all know that there are ways to simplify seemingly complex problems. And, my attempt at simplifying culture building is to simply focus on purpose and appreciation.

Dan Pink’s excellent book, Drive, beautifully synthesized human motivation to 3 ideas – autonomy, mastery and purpose. I’ve begun to believe that it is missing a fourth – appreciation. We care about being appreciated. A lot. There’s a saying that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. And, I’d hazard a guess that the managers who people want to leave are often managers who don’t appreciate what their people do.

So, why leave out autonomy and mastery in culture building? As an organization grows, I think it is hard to emphasize autonomy and mastery. Autonomy can get in the way of process. And, process becomes critical as we grow to ensure a consistent experience to customers. Balancing between autonomy and process isn’t easy and is a constant struggle for mature organizations. So, I think it is something that needs to be solved for by managers and leaders at an individual team level.

As far as mastery goes, I think it makes sense in some contexts and doesn’t in others. For example, companies work hard to allow for internal movement so people don’t feel stuck in certain careers. Certain career paths may be viewed as stepping stones to others. Again, I think of mastery as something we work on a manager and team level. In some teams, mastering the craft should be the key focus. And, in others, it should all be about gaining relevant skills and moving onto do other things.

My gut says that if we can focus on purpose and appreciation in our organizations and homes, we’ll be able to solve for most of the problems that culture helps solve. And, while more organizations are attempting to do better with appreciation, most are a long way away from improving the sense of purpose.

Small moments

There are so many magical small moments in a day.

Waking up in the middle of the night and realizing you’ve still got a couple of hours of sleep left.

Snoozing that alarm once to get a precious few extra minutes of sleep.

Managing to squeeze that little bit of toothbrush from the tube.

Seeing more green traffic lights than red ones on the way to work.

Walking out of a good meeting.

Making a colleague smile.

Smelling great food.

Feeling alive as you enjoy sweating on a run outdoors.

Reading a passage from a book that strikes a cord.

Enjoying a breath of fresh air as you take a walk.

Telling someone you love that you love them.

Being there for someone who needs you.

We love the big moments. The award ceremony, the big promotion, the raise, the graduation, and the signing of the paperwork.

But, the big moments are so few and far between that life can feel like an endless pursuit, an endless treadmill. It is when we learn to appreciate the small moments that we learn to appreciate the pursuit, that we realize that the pursuit is all there is.

As we live and appreciate these small moments, we live our days. And, as we live our days, so we live our lives.

Appreciating gravity

There was a moment in my 15 minute meditation routine this morning when Andy reminded me to appreciate gravity. A part of the exercise involves being aware of the weight of the body on the chair and the weight of the legs on the floor. And, of course, that wouldn’t be possible without gravity.

I thought the idea of appreciating gravity was symbolic of many a good thing in life. Gravity, to me, is one of those things that does its job every single day and, yet, is conspicuous by its absence from our attention. We take it for granted.

There are so many things and people in our lives that are exactly like gravity. An example that comes straight to mind is the human body. Every part of this incredible system just does its job. We only realize and appreciate this when we fall sick. How about appreciating it every day while we’re healthy?

It is also incredibly pertinent when it comes to appreciating people. So many companies and teams take their people for granted – especially those silent warriors who plug away at what needs to be done with unerring consistency. Often, true performers function like gravity. While they’re around, we never realize the impact they’re making simply because we take it for granted. If they weren’t around, these things would happen, wouldn’t they?

Let today be gravity appreciation day then. As we move through the day, let’s think about the many forces, things, and people we take for granted.. and appreciate them. This isn’t so much about them. This is just about us building this habit – to observe what is really going on, to notice efforts that might otherwise go unnoticed and to appreciate the good things.

For, when we learn to be appreciative, we learn to be thankful. And, when we learn to be thankful, we learn to be happy.