Makarios Consulting Blog

Affirmation: Thanks for Your Contribution

Good job. Nice work.

Affirmation is the least used, yet most powerful, motivating tool we have. It only takes a moment to thank and appreciate a contribution from a colleague. Yet, sadly, we often don’t take the time to do it.

In survey after survey in companies across America, fewer than 30% of employees characterize themselves as engaged – meaning they exhibit a strong commitment to their work, their managers, teams, and companies.

Conversely, better than 70% of employees are either passively disengaged – they collect a paycheck and go home – or actively disengaged, meaning they share their complaints with anyone who will listen.

When asked what their bosses said the last time they accomplished a goal, employees’ overwhelming response was ‘nothing.’ Would any of us be motivated to go the extra mile next time?

We can strengthen our engagement with our colleagues in many ways. One way is to use affirmations anytime they make a contribution we admire and appreciate. Here are two examples to drive this point home:

  1. Mike had just joined a new company – an $11 billion office products distribution company – late in 1994 as a member of the senior leadership team. He was anxious to prove himself to the team – to show that he could add value.

After four months of intense work with colleagues, helping them identify ways to improve their sales and marketing, Mike was still unsure of the true impact of his work with them.

At the company Holiday Party, one of the Division Presidents grabbed Mike and walked him over to their mutual boss, the CEO. He said: “Boss, Mike has been with us only four months and he has already helped our division accelerate our growth. He has made a huge difference.”

Twenty-two years later, Mike is still telling that story, showing the power of affirmation is huge!

To make affirmation truly effective, we must “make it real” – affirm behaviors or contributions we’ve seen ourselves, or heard about from others who are reliable. And tie it to the impact on the business or the team.

  1. One of the most dramatic examples of the power of affirmation involves Lou Holtz – back in the late 1970s when he was the head football coach of the University of Arkansas.

In his first season, 1978, Arkansas exceeded their fans’ expectations and received a berth in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma. The Sooners were in position to win their third national championship in four years. They had an incredibly strong team and Arkansas was a big underdog.

Arkansas’s chances looked even slimmer after the team lost several key personnel just before the game – one All-American lineman to injury and the two starting running backs to suspension. Holtz suspended them from the game for disciplinary reasons.

Just before the game, Holtz gathered his team in the locker room – they were demoralized and did not expect to win. He asked them to take time before going onto the field to say one thing they admired about another member of the squad…they went once around the circle, with each team member speaking and each team member being praised.

Arkansas won the game 31-6.

Although Holtz has never claimed that one moment was the reason they won, the affirmation process clearly had a powerful impact on the team and likely reset their beliefs and expectations.

Whenever possible, we need to affirm our colleagues. It will have a powerful effect on their performances and on our effectiveness as leaders.