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Winning at Working--Simple Things

by Nan Russell

I still have the email. It's been years since a highly placed corporate boss, who had the reputation and approach that things were never quite good enough, sent it to me. He was long on critique and revisions while short on acknowledgement and appreciation.

Anyone else reading his message would deem it ordinary. No flowery words, no glowing adjectives, no verbose flattery or deliberate feel-good rhetoric. It was written in a matter-of-fact, straight-to-the-point style that took all of three sentences.

Yet its mark was indelible. Not because his appreciation was infrequent, but because it was genuine. While it was an out of the ordinary contribution he acknowledged, the message didn't come in a signature-pen form letter "from" him via HR, nor was it composed and sent by his executive assistant. It came from him. He took the time to notice, comment, and engage. That simple email reconfirmed my commitment and spurred my enthusiasm.

It doesn't take much to let someone know they're valued. So why it is that so few people take the time to do it?

According to an online survey from Cornerstone OnDemand, being appreciated is the highest reason, excluding total compensation, that causes people to stay in positions. Yet, most respondents reported feeling undervalued at work. When they did feel appreciated, the majority reported it came from coworkers, not bosses.

This is not new news. But the response to many similar company surveys or consultant reports is the roll-out of another company-wide program offering a one-size fits all approach in an age of personalization and have-it-your-way customization.

Does anyone really think a gift catalogue where twenty-five years of service gets you a watch or jewelry, attached to a form letter from the company president who likely doesn't know you, communicates that the organization values a quarter century of contributions? Will that inspire others to aspire to longevity? If a company does use service awards, at least invest in a menu of customized and personalized 21st century options developed with employee input.

Most people don't want (or need) plaques gathering dust or watches that aren't worn. What they want (and need) is someone to notice and appreciate that they gave up their weekend plans to finish the last minute critical project; they willingly took on the responsibilities of that open position; they designed and executed a great idea that improved the department processes, or they worked tirelessly to serve a key client or accommodate a change in business priorities.

They want their contributions to be seen and to know that what they do at work matters. We all do.

People who are winning at working know it's simple things that communicate to others that their work makes a difference, that they're appreciated and valued. It's simple things that build trust, engage minds, and ignite talents.

It's simple things like a thank you or a performance review delivered on time; ongoing communications with both the good and not so good news. It's the job well done email, or the this-size-fits-you approach to career development and recognition. It's simple things like seeing people as whole people, not interchangeable parts, and letting actions communicate what's valued at work.

People who are winning at working realize that offering meaningful appreciation and recognition is not a program. It's an ongoing mindset and way of operating. It's noticing, honoring, respecting, acknowledging, and genuinely appreciating others' contributions to the whole.

(c) 2011 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell may be contacted at

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at


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