Stop thanking your team

Notebook with handwriting to suggest that the leader stop thanking the team so much

Most leaders don’t know it, but the way they’re thanking their team is actually self- and team-defeating. Before making an error that is at best as useful as watering the ocean, or at worst as appreciated as making a “tiny correction” to the Mona Lisa, stop thanking your team.

Here’s why.

People want to make a difference. It’s what defines and realizes us. To everyone besides your mom, you are what you do. Even in a team people want to know that they, personally, are making a meaningful contribution. It’s not just the most motivation a person can have – it’s the only true motivation there is (Hertzberg, 1959). One of the biggest problems leaders have is thanking their team too much.

You have this problem, too.

When you thank someone for their work, you think you’re expressing genuine appreciation. But “genuine” is in the eye of the beholder. And for 90% of the “thanks” out there, you’re not doing it right (authentically). In fact, you’re actually making things worse.

To be a great leader you’ve got to stop thanking your team – at least the way most do. Most feel an irrepressible need to add on to “thanks” with some thoughts of their own.

Bad move.

stop at "thanks."

If anything more than gratitude is expressed, all they’ll hear is “BUT.” Just stop at “thanks.”

With one exception.

Your thanks will be most impactful if you are able to fully subordinate yourself to the other’s act or idea.

Your thanks will be most impactful if you are able to fully subordinate yourself to the other’s act or idea. The best way to do this is with a simple nod that says “tell me more.” (Or you can actually say the words).

Next to making a difference, and actually a form of it, people need to feel a sense of power. Not necessarily via pure dominance, but yes, by some means of rising above others. High potential workers are especially motivated by power. The power to make a difference through others.

So, why does thanking your team actually demotivate them?

First – You’re recognizing the obvious

You demote and demean the high potential by thanking them for something that they feel is their normal order of business. It’s like telling someone, “Thanks, Mary. You’re very articulate.” To most this is a “left-handed” compliment at best, judgement in disguise. To some it’s an outright slap in the face.

NEVER thank someone for something that the target of thanks believes is an innate capability of theirs. I use the word, “thank” but the general act is one of praise. Be very careful that when you allocate praise that it is for something truly extraordinary. Something you REALLY appreciate, as in, “you really saved my @ss”.

Second – You’re improving "good enough"

You hijack – or “seize and one up” the individual’s contribution. Yep, by thanking someone you are basically saying, “I know that was a valuable contribution because I already know {have done, etc), ….”

Have you ever edited someone else’s email? (you know what I'm talking about then)

This may be a bit of a stretch presented as is. Let me offer another example to illustrate the harm in “blessing” another’s work.

TEAM MEMBER:  “We should put gears on the engine.”

LEADER:  “That's a great idea {because I gave it to you}. Thanks. That will also help us to make more ground rutabaga.”

TM to Self: {“I know it’s a great idea, Jughead, that’s what I deliver. Why can’t you leave it alone?”}

This power move takes (seizes) Team Member’s idea by acknowledging (“You’re right”) and taking it where it wasn’t going (hijacks it).

Don’t think you do this? Have you ever edited someone else’s email?

Moving on.

Third – You don’t really mean it

Some people are inveterate "Thankers." They thank someone for stepping on their toe. Over thanking is dilutive. The more you thank someone, the less they hear it or appreciate it (and you).

Did you know that you can stop your squawk box, I mean, “Alexa”, from repeating everything you tell it? Google it. I bet you will because you get sick of hearing your echo every time you give an order?

YOU:      “Alexa, turn on the lights.”

ALEXA: “Sure, I’ve turned on the lights.”

YOU:      “No duh. I can see that.”

ALEXA: “Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”

Alexa’s no good-natured woman, she’s a heartless hockey puck.

You get sick of hearing the same words. You get sick of hearing the same intonation. You realize Alexa’s no good-natured woman, she’s a heartless hockey puck. (AI still has a long way to go).

Yep. This is what over thanking sounds like to your team – a hockey puck. Enough already!

The science of motivation (simple version of Victor Vroom's Expectancy Theory)

In Physics, Work = Force x Displacement.

In Psychology, Valued Work = Quality x Instrumentality. (this is a 3rd person derivative of V. Vroom, 1964)

People want to deliver value at work. Let them do it.

Properly motivated, most deliver a quality product that makes a difference. People want to deliver value at work. Let them do it. Don’t stick your finger in a humming machine. Save your gratitude for the truly unexpected result and avoid over engineering another's pride.

Oh. And thanks for being a good reader.


Google can’t solve all problems. For hands on expertise, get in touch with me at Talentlift. (You can click the word. It won’t send an email or make a call).

Psychways is owned and produced by Talentlift, LLC.

Want to stay ahead of machines? Think like a four-year old.

Job technology is shown as a robot kicking a worker from their desk

I was surprised, and disappointed, that the 2016 presidential debates never addressed the explosive growth of job technology. Nothing. National borders, the economy, the environment, ethical behavior, etc. Same deck of cards. All important; none as imminently disruptive as the proliferation of job technology. It would have comforted millions to hear candidates say, “Here’s what I will do to protect your job from technology.” But it wasn’t mentioned. Technology was summarily avoided like a port-o-pot with a moist seat; you just don’t go there.

I believe the candidates and networks/discussants worked out a deal to keep the topic out of bounds. Why?

Because job technology is rapidly becoming more ubiquitous, unpredictable and disruptive than we thought in the labor market — and people’s lives. Restated in candidate speak, “It’s about the technology, Stupids.”

It absolutely amazes me to understand how one can run a campaign on job growth without addressing job technology? News break: Undocumented immigrants, offshoring production and bad international trade agreements aren’t taking jobs. Technology is.

Culture may eat strategy for breakfast. Technology eats whatever it wants.

And one of its favorite appetizers is your job. Continue reading “Want to stay ahead of machines? Think like a four-year old.”

7 ways to protect your job from technology

Robotic claw grabbing businessman

The machines are coming (oh my!). But what’s new? Machines have been coming since the invention of the wheel. Over time, machines have changed the way work is done, frequently allowing fewer people to do more, or, taking “share of labor”. For the most part, the emergence of machines, and technology in general, has been incremental. It’s also focused on the most routine and arduous jobs for now. So, workers have had time to adopt new skills to stay ahead of the changing workforce demands. But the pace of machine evolution has been accelerating at a compounding rate and workers are more than beginning to get scared. Here I present seven evidence-backed ways to protect your job from technology.

Technological innovation has been changing in at least three ways:

  1. Rate: Despite misuse and interpretation, Moore’s law does model the increasing rate of change in computer capacity. Moore predicted that the technology underpinning the processing speed of computers would double every 18 months. Illustrations abound depicting his predictions of accelerated change.
Moore's law diagram
Moore’s Law – Logarithmic Plot
  1. Volatility: Disruptions, or rapid and radical developments in technology, have become more common. In essence, new technology can “go viral”, infusing and dispersing itself with surprising speed and impact. Digital cameras took film quite quickly.
  1. Magnitude: When globalization hit the scene, entire components of our workforce went away (pun intended). Call centers made the early moves with manufacturing and programing soon to follow.

Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

The Perfect Storm

Three aspects of change unnerve people:

  1. Rate – As speed increases, accuracy decreases. If you want to really “excite” someone at work, pull out a stopwatch.
  1. Volatility – People do NOT like unpredictability, and that’s what disruptions create. Note the fate of network TV when digital cable came along. What happens when a new “system” is suddenly turned on in an organization? Better have a contingency plan.
  1. Magnitude – The bigger the change, the lower the likelihood that folks can, or will, adapt. Outsourcing and globalization did not really change jobs, it gave them to someone else. This has attracted the biggest reaction so far.

Note the pattern: Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

Control and Trust are Crucial

These are the cornerstones of psychological health. When it comes right down to it, the most basic question we face has two answers: “I’m okay” and “I’m not okay”. Control and trust determine the answer for any situation. If you have neither, run! Most times you will have one or both.

So, what can you do to “weather the technological storm?” In short,

Focus on what you can control.

Here I list seven ways that you can protect your job from technology. As I write, I realize, though, that these steps are really more about protecting yourself from technology more so than your job. Either way, I hope at least one suggestion gives you an actionable idea.

  1. Seek to understand and predict where technology is going in your work. The better you can do this, the more time you have to ‘get ready’ for the change. Levy and Murnane (2004) devised a simple matrix to answer the question: “What tasks do machines do better than people?”
Protect your job from technology: Levy and Murnane's matrix showing routine vs. non-routine and manual vs. cognitive quadrants
Levy & Murnane (2004) Matrix of Automation

A) Routine jobs are easiest for machines and the first at risk:

i.  Manual routine jobs like stamping “received” on a brief are at high risk.

ii. Cognitive routine jobs like proofreading also are at high risk.

B) Non-routine jobs are more challenging for machines:

i.  Manual non-routine jobs like stocking groceries are at less risk.

ii. Cognitive non-routine jobs like writing novels are at the least risk.

Consider your job from this framework. Be prepared to move up (toward cognitive skills like solving problems) and/or right (toward non-routine skills like repairing machines).

… the likelihood {is} that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it

  1. Understand what’s really happening or likely to happen as technology enters your work.

A) Is my job being replaced by a machine, or complemented with one? Most researchers and experience point to the likelihood that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it (at least not as a first ‘move’). Learn how to work with the new technology and show that you like it. (Remember, someone with more authority than you probably brought it in).

B) If you’re highly skilled, you’re likely to be first in demand when new technology arrives. Your knowledge and expertise will be used to coach and train others. But this won’t last forever. Keep your eye out for new challenges.

C) If you’re less skilled, you will be more valuable after the technology has been around long enough for the trainers to move on. Keep the faith.

  1. If you lead others, communicate frequently about when and how technology will be used; position the resources necessary to educate and train the workforce to succeed.

A) You have control to build and support capability in the workforce.

B) How you communicate and address concerns will raise the level of trust.

  1. If you hire people, pay attention to their expertise and ability to deal with change.

A) Flexibility will be vital for all in order to adapt to our changing world.

B) Experts will be necessary to lead and embed technology changes.

  1. Consider the following job families, scientifically predicted as “least likely to be automated in the next 20 years” (Frey and Osborne, 2013). Even if you’re well into your career, there’s a good chance you can better secure your job by improving your social intelligence. (Robots aren’t good at jobs that depend on people skills – especially those requiring social intelligence).
Protect your job from technology: Frey and Osborne's table depicting bottlenecks to automation
Frey and Osborne (2013) – Bottlenecks to Automation
  1. Craft your work. As machines, or those who use them, eat their way into the social, political, educational and financial world, we consumers can exercise choice in our purchasing power. Just like some now are willing to pay a premium for products made in the USA, in the future the same will happen for “Made by hand” (and not just cigars). Seek to incorporate your personal brand in your work. The more labor-of-love, “crafted” works will stand out from the machine made stuff like the old, unvarnished desk does from the one finely polished on “Antiques Road Show”.
  1. Be nice to people. Research is clear that being liked at work (specifically, by your boss) results in better reviews (Longenecker, 1986). (If this sounds political, it is; but the same research also reveals a positive relationship between being liked and being good – seems to fit). Robots may be able to say “please” and “thank you”, and even do the job better, technically speaking. But they’ll never gain the authentic trust that you as a person uniquely can. Even as babies, we’re able to distinguish the most subtle facial expressions. Smile with your heart.

Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear.

Yes, machines and robots and artificial intelligence are coming. Worrying won’t get you anywhere. Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear. If you continue to expand and sharpen your skills, particularly those specified, above, you can relax — for a while!

My hope is that this article allays some of the ‘doomsday’ concerns raised by fear mongering media under the title: “Will a Machine take my Job?”

Psychways is owned and produced by Talentlift, LLC.