When we collect stories in companies one of the most common anecdotes is the one about the boss who fails to recognise their staff’s work. People want to be thanked, appreciated, recognised regardless of their level in the organisation or their level of skill or expertise.
Dan Ariely conducted a simple experiment described in his latest book, The Upside of Irrationality, which shows that a simple nod of appreciation is more than a nicety, it’s a business necessity.
This is how it worked. Imagine a room where you might have a university exam–hopefully this doesn’t send chills down your spine. Sitting up front is the invigilator keeping an eye on your every move and ready to collect your paper at the end. In this case each person collects a single sheet of paper from the invigilator that’s covered in words. Your task is to circle any two letters that sit side-by-side and are the same. When you finish one page you return it to the invigilator and get another sheet until you can’t be bothered doing it any more.
There are three groups in this experiment.
For the first group when they return their sheet the invigilator gives a friendly smile and a nod of thanks.
People in the second group returning their paper are ignored. The invigilator doesn’t even look up. Their sheet is turned faced down onto a pile and without a word a new sheet is given.
The invigilator for the third group takes the sheet and without looking at the contents shreds it in front of the participant before handing them another sheet of paper to work on.
On avergae the first group that gets the nod of appreciation complete 9.03 sheets. Not bad for such a boring task.
The third group are ritually humiliated by the invigilator by shedding their work complete on average 6.34 sheets.
So what do you think happened for those people who were ignored? Are they somewhere in between groups 1 and 3?
Group three who received no feedback completed on average 6.77 sheets, very similar to those people who were practically abused as their efforts were destroyed before their eyes.
It would seem that authentic appreciation for a job well done goes along way to boost productivity and if you are one of these bosses who figures, “hey, they’re smart people who know what to do. They don’t need my praise.” think again. You could be really holding them back.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: