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Your organisation is missing out if it hasn’t got an employee recognition programme in place
Edwin Lemke interviewed by Swati Gangawane Gujar - 5th April 2018

Author of ‘Learning Appreciation in Business’, Edwin Lemke, is passionate about fostering a culture of appreciation, attentiveness and respect between people. The Germany-based author and trainer, conducts trainings and consultations and counts top-notch organizations like Microsoft, Siemens, Ford, VW as his clients. He has authored numerous books like ‘Learning Appreciation in Business’ and ‘Inspire your Audience’ to name a few.

Lemke spoke to the Bravo team and shared his insights on how appreciation is very important at workplaces, how certain organizations in Germany hire ‘Feel Good Managers’ to make employees feel appreciated and recognized, the failure of performance appraisals and how HR mangers could encourage a culture of peer-to-peer recognition.

Q: In your book ‘Learning Appreciation in Business’ you have said that ‘Appreciative behaviour is often scarce because many of us are unsure about how best to show others our appreciation.’ What are the causes of this uncertainty and how can it be overcome, especially at an organisation-wide scale?

Edwin Lemke: I believe that this uncertainty is growing in a kind of company culture where lean management and growing effectiveness have been the leading factors during the last decades. During those years appreciation might be a sign of softness and not effective. Giving appreciation was rare – so we are simply not accustomed to handle it. And when I once get the feedback ‘Emails saying thank you are inefficient and unnecessary’, I shall doubt whether I´ll send a similar mail again.

Responsible leaders should give positive examples in their organization. Clear recommendations should exist. Communication helps to figure out what works and what is accepted in the group.

In Germany companies might also hire Feel Good Managers who take care for employees´ problems and wishes; again, of course, they need the strong support from their bosses to develop a culture of appreciation, well-being and recognition.

Did you know: In Germany, companies hire Feel Good Managers to better take care of their employees

Q: What tips would you give leaders who understand the value of an appreciation culture at work but are unsure about how to make it work?

Edwin Lemke: Find examples. You are in the middle of good examples and experiences. Read books (ok: Learning Appreciation in Business also gives a lot of examples), search the internet, for example .

Participate at trainings and enhance your knowledge and your abilities.
Give an example. Start small. Be patient.
Explain. Talk. And listen.
And start again.

‘Opposite to appraisals, peer-to-peer recognitions offer often and timely feedback.’

Q: Why have performance appraisals failed to elicit better performances from employees? Does this failure explain the rise of peer-to-peer workplace recognition initiatives? 

Edwin Lemke: Unfortunately, there is plenty of room for some shortcomings during appraisals: Leaders have not enough time for specific preparation – they are not well informed about or used to a structured interview – they are not clear and positive in giving constructive feedback – they are not accustomed to define positive and verifiable goals – they fall into traps as perceptual distortions and halo effect – they compare personal results with results from others.

In opposite to appraisals peer-to-peer recognitions offer often and timely feedback – they offer equal opportunities to give and receive feedback – they offer to win the respect of peers – they use the daily offers from social media to encourage and to increase engagement.

So yes, all in all the difficulties and problems with performance appraisals might at least influence the rise of peer-to-peer workplace recognitions.

Q: In your article ‘When silence is not golden’ you talk about negative feedback and how it can be constructive rather than no feedback at all. Isn’t trust a vital part of this process? Without it wouldn’t negative feedback have an impact on employee morale?  

Edwin Lemke: Interesting thought. I think I have an idea of the situation you have in mind. So yes, trust will also help through a situation with no feedback or communication at all – I can imagine that in a trustful relationship this also can be acceptable and productive at the end. And yes, negative feedback has a negative impact on employee´s motivation.

Though, besides this specific trustful situation, in general we know that human beings need contact and communication. So just in this general sense it is meant that an even negative feedback is healthier than no communication at all.

‘The main problems for remote workers are loneliness and lack of recognition.’

Q: Remote working has changed the way employee appreciation works. How do you think remote workers could be appreciated for the work that they do?

Edwin Lemke: I think that the main problems for remote workers are loneliness and lack of recognition.

So, managers can:

  • Contact colleagues not only by phone and email, but also via Skype
  • Order that the employee must also appear regularly in the office
  • Make it clear that the Home Office scheme is initially used only as a reward – as part of a promotion or instead of a salary increase – so that the effect does not evaporate too quickly
  • Take extra care to make sure that the Home office worker is always considered and informed – at celebrations, at newsletters, at meetings

And also, the manager should make sure that no additional overtime is required, or that it is done voluntarily, out of fear of being a loafer. Again, communication is helpful.

Q: Millennials and the workplace is a hot-button topic. We track it carefully because our team itself is made mostly of millennials. With the average time for a millennial employee staying in a job being 2 years, what do you think organizations can do to make themselves, for a lack of better phrase, millennial-friendly?

Edwin Lemke: And again, communication is helpful. In this context I recommend ‘reverse mentoring’ – besides general appreciation and options for training. There is no doubt that in our changing world and business we all can profit from experiences which we have not made ourselves, and from knowledge which was acquired by our colleagues.

For this, firstly we all need the attitude of exchanging ideas about new and different things and perceiving these values ​​and experiences as an alternative – which does not mean having to accept and integrate it immediately. Diversity is important.

As a result of this, the ability to listen consciously and openly is required. Only then we know (better) what our partner means, thinks and intends.

In an organization with a reverse mentoring system, these skills are learned and can be implemented in concrete everyday situations – regardless of gender, race or age of my colleague.

I think that this quality in a business company is critical to employee retention.

‘Think positive about yourself. You have a right and you deserve to be healthy, successful and happy.’

Q: You conduct a workshop called ‘Success factor Resilience’. In a demanding world where performance is all that matters, how could we make ourselves more resilient?

Edwin Lemke: Eat move sleep – as the basis for a healthy, successful and happy life.

We can learn that – as well as other skills that are more closely related to the term resilience.

My tips:

Resilient people:

  • Accept change as something that belongs to life
  • Consider crises as surmountable problems
  • Believe in realistic goals
  • Take active decisions and take responsibility for their actions
  • Build friendships that can provide them with support

And maybe the most important thing: Think positive about yourself. You have a right and you deserve to be healthy, successful and happy.

‘Perfection is an unattainable condition.’

Q: You have a very interesting mantra ‘Don´t try to be perfect. Try to be better.’ We would like to know more about this, especially about how to bring it to work in one’s life.

Edwin Lemke: Perfection is an unattainable condition. Unfortunately, we often invest a lot of energy in approaching perfectionism – energy that we can use more effectively in other actions.

And of course, we can strive daily to get a little better – in whatever sense. This can affect both our strengths and our weaknesses. In general, I prefer to improve strengths – the motivation is just greater. And we succeed faster in becoming better at what we already do pretty well. And please, just a little better every day is fully enough.

Q: On a slightly different note, here’s a question for our readers in India. India is a young country. By 2020, 50% of the population will be 25. That’s half a billion people. This demographic divided poses a risk too due to lack of proper education and training. If you had the opportunity to shape such a huge resource, how would you approach this problem/opportunity? 

Edwin Lemke: A challenging situation, no doubt about it. And I am not a politician in education. Well, as a trainer in dual education, I naturally point out that VET plays an important role in the development of the young population. Of course, education will start before that, and only a few months will remain until 2020. My idea is that smartphones can play an important role. Two years ago, wrote: “India Just Crossed 1 Billion Mobile Subscribers Milestone and The Excitement’s Just Beginning”. So smartphones are apparently available everywhere in India, and the number of internet users is expected to reach 500 million in June 2018.

This opens up the possibility of using many digital learning materials. My recommendation is ‘Barefoot videos’ (i.e. learning videos with very simple means – but methodically and didactically professionally created) which can initiate learning processes as nuggets of knowledge (small information units). There are many learning platforms today that offer quizzes and exercises – so-called online learning and teaching marketplaces. These technical possibilities should be used to offer extensive learning content nationwide. Other advantages are obvious: learners can decide what, when, where and how often they study and listen to learning content.

By the way, please do not forget: We will always need face to face trainings to learn communication, creativity, appreciation, emotions – in other words to experience social contacts. These are not taught through online learning – we will continue to work on developing the educational situation.

 Q: You are a trainer, an author and even a top-class athlete. How do you manage to do all of this?

Edwin Lemke: Working as a freelancer trainer for many years – and also conducting time management seminars – I am accustomed to plan and to structure my daily work. So, between my trainings I also organize my schedule to make notes and to write and to let my texts grow. And talking about running: I am sure that my well-being depends on my regular running. And running is easy, you can do it everywhere. Two more motivations for my running: Being mentally and physically fit is a presupposition for me to travel around the world and to conduct trainings. And, of course, I want to give a role model that this is also possible at a certain age.

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Pozitive” a Product Division of SpadeWorx is next step in taking forward our mission - “Employee Engagement To Drive Productivity & Innovation”. We have been privileged to work with lot of customers over the last decade and have learnt a lot when it comes to the increasing importance of Employee Engagement as organizations are getting on the digital transformation journey.

Increasing Employee Engagement requires a cultural transformation at many organizations and we believe reimagining recognition is a good start. For this purpose, SpadeWorx launched “Bravo – Workplace Recognition Reimagined

With our research, surveys ,participation in expos and conferences a very clear message has emerged which is voiced by thought leaders in HR space that Culture is the most important catalyst in a company for vibrant and positive work place which can bring increased productivity and efficiency.

Bravo is aimed at promoting desired cultural traits which is so very essential for strategy execution.