During the behavioral training to a financial institution on a new Performance Appraisal Process, multiple rigorous discussions among almost 130 trainees revolved mostly around one topic: 

People’s natural tendency to get so caught up to ‘get the job done’, that we often forget to be present for our people and assume that they know how we feel about them.

But as it turns out this is not always the case! And hence a vicious cycle begins…People do not feel appreciated; hence they are not productive; And they are not productive (anymore); hence they are not appreciated (anymore). How to break it?

The critical points that stood out – during these fruitful conversations – managers need to invest more, may work as an inspiration:

Finding the balance between “getting the job done” & building honest relationships is about the journey, not the destination – especially in this era of hybrid work

#1. Check-in early and often. No one likes invisible leaders. If you create brief interactions that are valuable points of connection for your employees and allow them to share stories with you about what they are doing or working on, you can make them feel “known” by you — and stay in the loop on what are their daily challenges.

#2. Give balanced feedback. Employees want to know both, what they are doing well, and where they can improve. A clear message is key to the impact. So be sure to separate out the positive feedback from the developmental feedback. Positive feedback builds trust capitalizing on a person’s acknowledgement on their actions. And developmental feedback builds on a climate of productive collaboration, mutual self-development and honesty.

Magic trick: The more feedback you request – and listen actively – the more credible you become, when giving your own feedback. So, lead by example. This counts not as vulnerability on your part, but as intentional growth-mindset leadership.

#3. Make it a habit. Simply taking a few minutes to tell your employees specifically what you value about their contributions and how you can further improve your partnership can be a tremendous long-term investment. Try to build it into your regular routines, perhaps by spending the first 10 minutes of your day to organize your check-ins and you will see immediate progress.

#4. Preparation is 90% success (how could this beloved moto be missing here?) Prepare for the regular annual appraisal discussions by keeping a log file of positive and developmental feedbacks you give to all team members. This will help during the appraisal process to keep a clear view and not distract yourself from latest behaviors or results. Also, prepare in written for the more difficult feedback discussions, if you don’t feel convenient yet.

#5. Take ownership. The true test of great leaders is what they do when plans fall short. Regardless of who dropped the ball on the project, focus on the future and implement a strategy that includes everyone’s agreed-on proposals, specific duties and stretch activities. Your team will see you as a front-line leader who will go to war for them!

#6. Address growth opportunities. Employees want to know what the future holds for their careers and that their managers acknowledge their potential and invest on their personal aspirations. When managers take time to explicitly discuss growth potential and provide “stretch” assignments, employees interpret it as evidence that they are heard and valued.

#7. Offer flexibility. Whether managers give people the option to work one more day remotely or even simply suggest someone come in late the day after working extra hours, employees are quick to interpret it as an important signal of trust and appreciation. One employee told us that he felt the flexible work schedule his manager offered him was “a huge recognition”.

#8. Help coworkers network within the larger organization. When managers highlight how employees use one another’s work within their department or across others, it sets the stage for appreciation to spread throughout the organization. For managers, it is much easier to see how the contributions of each person fit with the work of others, but employees often lack that insight especially in this remote-working period.

#9. Making Appreciation Easy and Contagious. The best part of appreciation is that it is free and does not consume a lot of time. And when leaders get involved in the effort, a culture of appreciation spreads more quickly. If you are a manager, consider partnering with one or more peers to exchange ideas and create accountability for your efforts.

At the end of the day, building a culture of appreciation comes down mostly to a lot of small commonsense practices: Not taking your people for granted. Remembering to say thank-you in a personal and sincere way. Making it clear that you are interested in mutual growth and in their potential as individuals.

Let’s start by expressing more gratitude to those around us and see what happens. We might be surprised at what a big difference these little things can make!


Anna Papadopoulou, Learning & Organizational Development Consultant