Think doing great work isn’t enough? You’re right.
Word Count: 695
Reading time: 1.5 minutes
When chemists at Proctor and Gamble created Febreze, they were thrilled. Their invention eliminated even the most noxious odors which they’d proved by testing it on a Park Service Ranger. Before Febreze, the ranger’s skin, clothes and car all reeked of skunk and her entire social life had to be conducted over the phone. After Febreze, her friends came over in droves. To the Ranger, Febreze was a miracle. Febreze was expected to be a runaway success. But Febreze did not sell.
Focus groups confirmed that the product worked perfectly: Before Febreze, maximum stinkiness; after Febreze, nothing. Everyone agreed it worked as advertised.
And that was the problem. One participant said, “After I’ve done all that work to clean the house, I want to know that I’ve done something. I want the house to smell clean.”
It wasn’t enough to have a clean house. It wasn’t enough to make the stale, bad smells go away. It never is.
It’s never enough to complete the task, even when you knock it out of the park.
It’s not really finished until it’s celebrated, acknowledged, noticed. And that means noticing people and what they contributed.
The scientists went back to the lab and added scent to Febreze, and the product sold briskly. The scent didn’t make the product work any better. The scent let people know that they’d made a difference.
How important is acknowledgement?
In Mexican culture, there are 3 levels of death: When your body quits is the first death. When your body is buried or cremated is the second death. The third death is when people stop remembering and telling stories about you.
Death isn’t final until your contribution goes unacknowledged.
In meetings, at work, all day, long we kill people’s spirits by refusing to offer simple, gracious acknowledgement of what they contribute. We injure our own natural kindness by not looking for those stories to tell, by being driven by the clock, the calendar, by urgency that is nothing more than an invention, by the terror that comes with trying and failing and trying again.
Let’s stop that.
In Mexican culture, they set aside a day a year to remember the dead and tell their stories. All I’m asking of you is 3-5 minutes at the end of every meeting.
What this isn’t
This is not 3-5 minutes of “Kum-ba-yah.” It’s not a speed bump on the road to accomplishing a task. And it is most certainly not a way to make a public, uneasy peace with people who are not performing in their jobs, nor is it a consensus activity where we all agree. It’s an acknowledgement activity disguised as a list.
How the “Plus-Delta” evaluation works
1. Make two lists on a flipchart or whiteboard. On the first list write what worked well about the meeting or interaction. This is the “plus” list. Ask the group for suggestions before adding your own. List fast using partial sentences or single words, clarify only, don’t argue and let the accomplishments register in your body.
2. The “Delta” list is a list of what your group wants to change for next time. (A delta is the mathematical symbol for change) Asking for changes rather than complaints (or “minuses”) is how you get away from listening to people complain about something in the past that you can’t change, which is as exhausting as it is pointless. You want to know what to change so you can all change it, not get saddled with someone’s orphaned discontent.
3. Review each list, then promise to make the changes you can and acknowledge those you can’t. Bring the list to the next meeting and review it when you open the meeting.
In my experience, when people can see how they’ve contributed, many icky behaviors simply disappear. It’s not necessary to gamify the workplace, to up the stakes continually, to bribe people to bring their best to a task.
We all want to be part of a story that never ends. Acknowledgement does that.