In his book “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School,” the late Mark McCormack argues that people appreciate the small things – attention to detail, showing genuine concern, taking a personal interest, remembering a name.
These tokens are typically ignored by the strictly transactional– those concerned with monitoring the work, checking for completion, and scheduling assignments.
A sole focus on task attainment misses crucial aspects of relationship maintenance, social niceties that grease the wheels of interaction. Mary Kay Ash suggests we all wear an invisible sign which reads “Make me feel important.”
The single act of paying attention can have a huge impact. Like the energizer bunny, workers are expected to “keep on going” in the Weberian sense of mechanistic efficiency [without a larger sense of community or valuation from the company]. It’s those civilizing details that make relationships something beyond a contractual arrangement – something that engenders loyalty and long term commitment.
A caring environment is especially important to those who value “warm fuzzies,” or a sense of belonging from their workgroup. Instead of rigid authoritarianism and obsessive rule following, these people will expect flexibility, leniency, and consideration for them as individuals – i.e., they will expect you to consider the relationship instead of reacting in the heat of the moment. Before you decide to lower the hammer, consider the harm.
A primary tenet of motivational theory is that concepts like recognition, freedom, and respectful interaction are powerful motivators. As a manager, what small things can you do to facilitate a caring culture? How can you create a “family feeling” in which employees realize they’re more than widgets? If you’re a boss, try the following:
- Make small talk. President Clinton is considered charismatic because he has the uncanny ability to make others feel they’re supremely important. This ability is nurtured through personal inquiry, remembering a detail, or simply acknowledging people beyond the obligatory “How are you?” “I’m fine” banal exchange.
- Salute their special day. Who doesn’t like it when others remember the unexpected, something uniquely personal like a birthday? I would argue that even the office curmudgeon appreciates this degree of effort on his or her behalf. Several companies market small tokens specifically designed for this purpose. These items are a small cost with a potentially huge impact.
- Do something for the kids. This only works of course if you’ve taken the time to get to know your employees on a deeper than “business as usual” basis. McCormack suggests the single act of remembering children’s preferences (in terms of small gifts or gestures) can build immeasurable good will.
- Tell them they’re valued. Not just in a roundabout way, but in writing, e.g.: “I value your contributions.” See what happens.
It’s the small things that people remember fondly (or relive with shame). Each day you’re making memories for other people. Strive to see they’re good ones.