How To Make Someone’s Life At Work

A touching thing happened on the way to my last keynote speaking gig. 

The night before, I attended the company’s dinner function, which started with a retirement sendoff for Marc.  He was a long time manager and employee of the company.  As we were served food, a stream of co-workers presented their account of the difference Marc made, including funny slides and inside jokes.

Over and over again, presenters stressed how much Marc had influenced them and made a difference in their life.  At the end of the half hour ceremony, a slide collage played while “In My Life” by the Beatles played over the sound system.  Everyone, especially Marc and his wife, choked up during this touching moment.  I did too, and I don’t even know him.  It was all the attention to detail, the thoughtfulness of the troupe of co-workers that organized the ceremony.  It was love.

The next day, before my talk, I congratulated him.  He replied, “I feel like my life was made last night.” From a psychological standpoint, his reaction makes sense.  Abraham Maslow would call this a moment of self-actualization, the highest need we have as humans.  Marc was publicly and personally made in that his contributions were acknolwedged sincerely by people he cared about and respected. 

“You just don’t see that enough these days,” was a common phrase I heard at breakfast that morning.  It’s been a few years since I’ve seen such a staged recognition event (I’ve attended a few heart-tuggers that Career Builder put on for their top performers – including flying in family and creating custom videos.)  Most companies likely are too busy to stop, kiss the roses, and put on the thank-you for their best.  Maybe leaders fear creating jealousy?

The value of public recognition goes beyond how it makes the recipient feel.  It shapes the culture too, teaching others that their contributions are appreciated and will be recognized.  In all these ceremonies I’ve attended, no one was thanked because he killed his numbers.  He was thanked because he helped and cared about his people.  

Culture is a conversation about the way things are done around here.  How’s yours?  Do you regularly stage recognition events to promote gratitude and giving ?  Next time you have an event or meeting, find a reason to say thank you to a contributor and don’t forget the details, the pictures and special guests to make it memorable.  Who knows, you might make someone’s life.