Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Power of Acknowledgement

Most people underestimate the power of acknowledgement. It is seen as the black art from the touchy feely world. However, without it, you can be assured resentment is brewing somewhere under the surface for the unacknowledged person.

Whether it is in our professional or personal life, most of us go unacknowledged for our contribution. Too often, people have the belief of: ‘I don’t need acknowledgement why do others need it?’ This philosophy can leave the other party with the feeling of
damn if I do damn if I don’t. As the resentment increases, enthusiasm decreases into a downward spiral of do as little as possible.

In this day and age, it is unfortunate that this behavior still occurs. Research shows that when people make extra effort, money is usually not required to compensate them. People are satisfied with acknowledgement, especially when it is done publicly.

In contrast, there are some societies where money is not the motivating factor. In those societies where people are compensated with money, there are no year-end bonuses to increase productivity. I lived in several countries where I witnessed non-monetary exchanges. Yet, the people worked very hard. 

For several months, I lived in Belize. I stayed with Mayan Indians in a small village with 330 residents. For my own personal experience, I lived and worked as they did. The village was built on unexcavated ruins in the jungle. There was no electricity or running water. They lived in huts made of tree branches and the rooftops were palm leaves. The people in the village were essentially an agricultural society. They rose at 5:00am and went to bed between 8:00pm or 9:00pm. The women took care of the household and the men did the farming, without machines. To plant a crop of corn, for example, they first cleared the land by chopping down the jungle with a machete. Afterwards, they would make a hole in the ground with a stick and drop 7 seeds of corn into it.

Because the men in one family may have to cut down between 50-300 acres of jungle, it was important to be able to collaborate with other families. Furthermore, collaboration was voluntary. If a man chose to help another family, he would not be paid money for his service.

As I worked side by side with the father, son and son-in-law of my host family, I was amazed at how efficient they were at cutting through jungle. We had help from another gentleman and his 18-year-old son. Even though they were helping, they worked as though their family depended on them. If anything, I was the weakest link. While I was physically stronger than the other men, I could not keep up with the pace they were swinging the machete. 

When the workday ended, I observed the ways in which they acknowledge one another. The father of my host family invited the other man and his son to his house. Because it was after dinner, there was no food or drinks offered. It was just personal time together. It seemed the social time together was enough to preserve the relationship between the 2 families. 

Whether in Costa Rica, Belize or Mexico, I watched people work together without an exchange of money. In cases where there was remuneration, it was much less than minimum wage in the US.

When I returned to the US, I started to employ similar efforts to motivate staff. Public acknowledgement, going for a walk or treating an employee to lunch and having a social hour have all been extremely effective in increasing productivity and loyalty.

As trite as it sounds, simply saying good job to someone goes a very long way. Who will you acknowledge today.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know. 


  1. Great article. First introduced to it through Truth B Told news service. Really enjoyed the article.

    1. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate your feedback and look forward to future comments from you.

  2. Ted, you are so right! As the author of 3 books on The Power of Acknowledgment in association with International Institute for Learning (www.GratefulLeadership.com), I couldn't agree more. People really do seem to value appreciation/acknowledgment over compensation. I hear that from the tens of thousands of project managers, engineers, CEOs and other leaders. Good people also leave good jobs when they don't feel valued. It's so simple, and yet most don't know how to deliver a sincere and heartfelt acknowledgment to people that truly deserve it. Please contribute your thoughts and stories on IIL's blog as well about this. Just the dialogue brings about positive change. Hope to "see" you on our website.

  3. Thank you, Judy. There is so much untapped talent in organizations. Acknowledgement is one way to bring it out of a person.

    I would be honored to contribute to your blog.


  4. Thank you so much -- we love having like-minded contributors to our International Institute for Learning Grateful Leadership blog. Or if we have people who disagree, we love to demonstrate and subsequently prove to them that this positive approach makes a huge difference! So as they say in our business, "Let's talk!" Or if you are in the New York area, let's do lunch! :-) Please send a note to judy.umlas@iil.com. And your readers are welcome to reach out to us as well. Best, Judy