Are Your Employees Going the Extra Mile?

by Jennifer Miller on June 4, 2010

in Guest Blogger

Leaders, when’s the last time you saw your employees go the extra mile? 

Today? Last week?  Last month?

The photo at right was taken by Terry P., the Library Media Supervisor at my kids’ elementary school. (Back in the day, we called them “librarians”.) Shortly before this picture was taken, Terry had been doing an activity with the kids using pennies and reference hand outs.  At the end of the activity she instructed the kids to “stack everything on the tables before you leave”.

It would appear that an enterprising student took Mrs. P.  at her word.

Imagine the patience and precision required to stack all of those pennies.  Was it worth the trouble?  Was it even necessary?

Seems to me that your employees might be wondering that very thing— is what I’m doing even worth the trouble?  Does anybody even notice?

Leaders, stop for a moment and think of your team members.  What are they doing that would be noteworthy enough to document with a photograph?

Drawing a blank?  Then it’s to time start paying closer attention. Maybe they are going the extra mile, but you’ve somehow missed it. Your people are doing good work*.  Chances are you’ve just been too busy to see it. So go out and start finding the stacked pennies. Oh, and if you do find a noteworthy achievement— would you do me a favor and thank them for it?  Remember, it took a lot to get those pennies to stand up in that stack. If they don’t get any feedback, they might be tempted next time to let them sit in a big, messy pile.

*OK, so maybe some of them aren’t doing such great work.  That’s an entirely different blog post.

Photo credit: ©Terry P.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Deirdre June 5, 2010 at 10:26 am

I wrote about something similar too. I have had the worst experiences in my doctors’ offices recently – great medical but awful support staff. My one doctor’s assistant was even rolling her eyes while he talked to me. It was horrible.

Do you look for the good AND the bad? And if you see both, which do you address first?

Jennifer June 5, 2010 at 11:44 am

Deirdre,

To your question—If a leader sees both “good” and “bad” performance, which to address first?

First of all, for either type of performance, the general rule of thumb of giving feedback is “the sooner the better.” In this case, you’re asking about the order in which you would address an employee’s performance, in the event that both desireable and undesireable performance is occurring.

If the “bad” stuff is severe (safety infractions, gross misconduct) then clearly a leader needs to act quickly and that means addressing it first. By the same token, if someone really exceeds your expectations, act promptly. You’re enthusiasm will be most sincere “in the moment”. Not to mention that you’ll be less likely to forget to give the positive reinforcement.

Most leadership experts agree that it’s best to separate feedback into the “encouraging” (encourage more of a good thing) and the “developmental” (re-directing undesireable performance.) There’s an old saw called the “sandwich rule” (“sandwich” the bad news in between two pieces of more positive news.) I’m not a fan of that approach.

Jason Seiden just had a great blog post about giving feedback not too long ago: http://jasonseiden.com/seidens-16-rules-for-giving-feedback/, so I won’t repeat his advice. I concur with all of it.

To me, it’s less about the order in which a leader gives feedback and more about being sure TO DO IT.

Thanks for a great question, Dee, and joining us at The People Equation. It’s always such a pleasure to have you here 🙂

Steve Boese June 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I have been reading ‘The Why of Work’ this week, and in the book Dave and Wendy Ulrich make the case that the positive reinforcement of desirable behaviors should much more strongly emphasized that the negative feedback for undesirable actions. Not that negative feedback should be avoided, but that the ration of positive to negative should be about three to one. Interesting for sure.

Jennifer June 5, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Steve,

I’ve long admired Dave Ulrich’s work, especially in the area of competency development. It appears that his latest research supports what I learned many years ago during my undergraduate study of behavioral psychology: positive reinforcement yields more positive outcomes than does punishment.

To see a fun explanation of this concept, check out my post:

http://people-equation.com/boo-or-yay-manager/

Thanks for stopping by!

davidburkus June 5, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Great post. I have to admit that initially I thought this would be about motivating employees to go the extra mile. I think even more important is, as you say, recognizing those who do.

Jennifer June 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm

David,

Welcome back to The People Equation. Oh, that tricky, tricky task of “motivating” people. . .

It’s so hard to know what will “motivate” someone to go that extra mile in advance. I think the best leaders strive to create an expectation of excellence, then reward it when they see it. It creates a positive cycle.

Of course, we could also debate the merit of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators, couldn’t we? Perhaps that’s a separate blog post.

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