Showing Appreciation

Showing Appreciation: It Costs A Little Bit And It Goes A Long Way

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) carries the responsibilities for the administration of the non-profit organization and the implementation of its services in the community. Most people know that it is a 24/7 responsibility and entails not only the ongoing work of the agency but also dealing with unanticipated events and emergencies. Whether it has to do with the physical plant of the building or a crisis in the delivery of services the CEO is the one who has to bear the responsibility for the organization’s functioning and responding in an appropriate and comprehensive manner.

However, the CEO does not work alone. It is the dedication, knowledge, experience and expertise of a well trained professional and administrative staff that enables the organization to perform in the best interest of the clients and the community. There are times when the staff members do not feel appreciated by the CEO, and as a result there may be a less than positive response when they are called upon to respond to requests not directly related to their jobs.

Expressing appreciation and thanking the staff for the efforts is a very important part of administering a non-profit organization involved in health, education and welfare. Many of the people who work for these organizations do so for altruistic reasons and not for the financial remuneration which is often lower than the private sector. We expect that the humanistic values that motivate someone to work in human services would also have an impact on the way people relate to each other regardless of their title or position.

Acknowledging people’s efforts and accomplishments creates a culture within the organization. It begins with the attitude of the CEO, however, it can easily permeate the entire agency. When the CEO lets others know their work is appreciated then it sets a norm for the entire organization. It is one thing to talk about providing positive feedback to the employees and it is quite another to integrate it into the daily life of the non-profit.

There are several ways this can be accomplished within an organization. Of course there is the direct feedback provided to the middle management of the agency and the impact on the department heads and supervisors when they receive compliments about their efforts on behalf of the organization. We would also anticipate that they would then follow suit and acknowledge the work of the people who they supervise.

Acknowledgement is not only saying “thank you”. It is also possible to sponsor group activities and events that involve the staff in both planning and implementing the programs. Occasionally inexpensive gifts can be acquired that communicate appreciation for the efforts staff members make on behalf of the organization. Even staff retreats that are designed to deal with work issues can contain informal activities that recognize the accomplishments of the employees.

When an employee’s efforts are recognized and their contributions to the implementation of the agency’s services are appreciated it reinforces their willingness to do more and to extend themselves on behalf of the organization and their clients. Of course this is not the main motivation for their working in human services, however, it does have an impact in reinforcing their desire to assist others as well as their commitment to the organization. All of us want to have our efforts on behalf of others reinforced through the recognition of our work by our employers.

Non-profit organizations often struggle for budgets that enable them to meet the needs of the community in a comprehensive way. It is very rare for an agency to say they have been able to provide all the needed services to the community and they have no need for additional funds or staff resources. It is not unusual for staff members to perform multi-functions, and often people are approached to be involved in performing tasks that are not directly related to their responsibilities.

We would never accept a staff member saying, “This is not my job. I am sorry I cannot help you.” We would perceive a person as not displaying team spirit and not being collegial or helpful. Having received a response like this we would certainly take note of it and we might even let other people know about the person’s refusal to assist us.

Although someone not agreeing to take on additional responsibilities would be noted, and it might even be raised in a subsequent supervisory session, it is very rare that the absence of a “thank you” is noted and reported to anyone. Acknowledging the efforts of professional and administrative staff member is perceived as “welcomed” but not “obligatory”. This is a mistake and it weakens the bonds that connect colleagues in an organization.

In the same way that we confront inappropriate or unprofessional behavior in an organization we have a professional obligation to support our colleagues and supervisees who meet their responsibilities in a timely and professional fashion. In an organization that has not integrated the “culture of appreciation” it is important to find ways to build it into the everyday function of the organization. It is a norm that has to be adopted by the CEO and the management staff and be communicated to staff on all levels of the organization.

Once it is part of the organizational culture on the staff level it can be introduced to the board of directors. In a future posting I will deal with the issue of the board expressing its appreciation to the professional staff and acknowledging the importance of recognizing the expertise, commitment and dedication of the professionals. However, we cannot expect the board to respond in a way that is not modeled by the administration of the agency. Next time, acknowledge the efforts of those you work with and you will see the tremendous impact it has on all the staff.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.