Meaning is the term I use to describe the importance of finding significance in the things we do. Of course, I believe we all need to have purpose (something to do every day, a way to structure our time), social contact and meaning throughout our lives. Meaning involves recognition, stewardship (taking care of people, things, or organizations) and exchange of value. Recently as I have been talking about recognition, I have become aware that I’m not being clear. When I say that we get recognition from things we do at work, people think about employee-of-the-year awards. When I say that we need recognition for the efforts we make, people’s humble gene kicks in and they say things like, “I don’t need to stand in front of the room or get a trophy, I just want to help.”
Different Strokes for Different Folks
I accept responsibility for not presenting this concept right. I agree that not everyone wants to be “recognized” for their efforts by having speeches said about them at an awards banquet. In fact, some people would hate that. We use the DISC profile to help understand ourselves and our coworkers’ natural and adaptive styles at work. Some people l, especially those with the high “I” style may want some of that front of the room attention. In fact, they might thrive on it. Others, like “C’s” might find that mortifying. For a high C, a quiet comment from a boss about excellent, thorough work would be much more effective than an award. I am a high D/high C. I get awards from different investment companies every year. They call them “president’s club” or “elite advisor award.” They send a fancy lexan trophy that I am supposed to display with pride in my office or lobby. I always put them right in the trash. My comment is, skip the trophy and lower expenses to clients instead! These awards don’t acknowledge my excellence in giving advice. They simply indicate that I directed a certain amount of client assets to a particular investment strategy or fund. The companies’ attempt to recognize my efforts fall totally flat for me. In fact, I feel a little yucky when the awards show up in the big UPS box. I feel like, “you think I recommended your strategy because of this?”
I hope you can tell I am not suggesting that we all need trophies and awards. But I still contend that we all need recognition. And what I mean is much more subtle, both in its expression and in its effect. I’m not talking about the big show, but the little things, the small interactions that occur between two people or in a small group. You help a coworker get some papers off the copier when you walk by. You answer the phone when the receptionist is tied up with something. You greet the delivery person and hold the door open so he can bring in his dolly. For all of these normal, routine interactions, we get a “thank-you.” The person we helped recognizes and acknowledges our efforts. At work there are literally dozens of occasions to help and be recognized every single day.
The psychological value of hearing, “thank you,” a dozen times a day is hard to overestimate. You see, recognition makes us think again about what we’ve done, and think differently about who we are. Each time we get thanked or acknowledged, there is reinforcement in our own minds: I am valuable. I have a positive impact. I make a difference. Look, I know hearing, “thank you” for holding the door open seems almost automatic and therefore inconsequential. But if you go from hearing it ten times a day to zero times a day you will realize it does have consequence. It carries weight. It makes a difference in how we think about ourselves. Cognition is the process of thinking. The word recognition can be split into “re,” meaning “again” and cognition. So, recognition makes us think again. About ourselves.
I want you to have a great life, a life of meaning and consequence and significance. And I believe a key to staying engaged is to feel good about what you are doing. When work stops, it is critical to find ways to keep up your opportunities to interact with people, to make a difference — and for them to recognize your contribution.