Let Them Know

A few years ago I was in Sydney and was on a bus heading back downtown from the beach on a Saturday afternoon. A group of folks got on when I did and it took me a few minutes to realize that one of my favorite actors, Michael Cera, had gotten on and was sitting in the seat behind me. He was with his co-stars from a play they were doing in Sydney and had just arrived that morning, so they were riding around in an attempt to stay awake until that night and start getting over the jet lag. I was chatting with the trio, asking about the play, offering some thoughts on Sydney, and answering their questions about living in Southeast Asia. Finally, a couple stops before they got off, I turned to Michael and said, “Look, I’m trying to be cool about this, but the truth is I’ve really enjoyed your work in everything you’ve done, and I was thrilled to hear there are going to be more Arrested Development episodes.” “Thanks, dude,” he said, “I really appreciate you telling me that,” and then we talked about zombies.

It has occurred to me before that, as much as we talk about providing feedback to your employees, one group that doesn’t hear much directly is actors. They are up on a stage or a screen and yeah, they get applause if they are in a play, and sure, they get their paychecks, but they don’t really get much direct feedback from the consumers of their creativity. So when I have the chance (like, after a Broadway show, or on a random bus ride through Sydney) I like to seek out an actor whose work I have enjoyed and just say “thanks for doing that.”

Your employees are in a much better position to get feedback from you, and if they are doing good work you should be letting them know that. Don’t wait for something to go wrong to share your thoughts with them, and don’t only focus on mistakes while ignoring successes (yes, failures provide a learning opportunity, but so do successes). This is not to say you should go overboard and praise them just for showing up to work; I have had bosses before who heaped so much praise on me that I finally quit believing it, because no one is that great. But you should let your team know when they are doing well, and if possible, include some feedback from their consumers.

When it comes to retaining people, one of the most important things your employees look for is respect, and they also want to know they make a difference to the organization. Show them that, with your words and your actions. Remember, too, that employee referrals are among the best ways to recruit your new employees (since the referral provides a vetting for that individual’s ability to fit into your culture) and employees who are happy in the workplace are more likely to recommend it to others.

C’mon now, admit it: you want people to tell you what a great job you are doing. So make sure you tell your employees. A few words can have a great impact.