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Thursday, September 27. 2018
My Senior VP has been in place for just over a year. He's made some changes to our team which are, without going into detail, good. He's altered many of the previous cultural differences between our department and others we work with, and has found a way to eliminate much of our own department's internal strife. Many of the changes he's made are superficial. Overall effectiveness and productivity is unchanged. He'd say morale and confidence of the group are higher. I wouldn't disagree, but it's a subjective opinion. My view has always been an efficient and productive department has the highest morale. People like be useful and productive. It carries its own rewards.
Still, I can't fault him for following the path he has. Either groupthink has set in (my view) or he's made real, tangible differences that will last. I'm a natural skeptic. People can feign behaviors for only so long, but I hope I'm wrong and he's right.
One behavior which he has instituted, however, has me cringing. Not because it's terrible. Not because it's wrong or subversive or disturbing in a broad sense. From my perspective, based on my own personality and 36 years of working, it's just uncomfortable and personally intimidating. Thank you is something for me and whoever I'm with. I'm curious to see what others think. I've shared this with many people and gotten many different responses.
At the start of each meeting, our SVP requires a few moments to go around the table and say "Thank yous" to people who are either at the table or not at the table. A public thank you with an explanation of why you're thanking the person or group. I have been the recipient of one thank you, and it made me feel queasy. I guess I'm supposed to be grateful someone noticed me, but I didn't like having people clap and giving me recognition for what is, in essence, doing my job. Yes, I went above and beyond. But that's what you're supposed to do.
I have never said thank you to anyone during this session. It's not that I don't say thank you. I'm very grateful for people/teams who give assistance. I say thank you in emails, over the phone, in person. From my perspective, saying "Thank You" is a very personal thing. Sharing that to a wider group isn't in my repertoire. That's not a lack of gratitude or graciousness. It's between me and the people/teams I work with. Thank you, for me, has a place in few public forums. An entertainer thanks their fans. A politician thanks their base of voters/supporters. Those are public roles, with public audiences.
Many friends of mine have said "Just play along, fake it, do it because that's what he wants, play the game." I'd like to do that. But that's not authentic. Authenticity, sincerity, is essential to do this sort of thing. If I just do it, it's not authentic.
I've done some research to see what makes saying thank you important. Here is what I've found.
We live our lives under broad rules of conduct which require some common sense and courtesy. Free markets require trust, sincerity and a high level of gratitude (on both sides of the exchange) to operate properly. We learn as children that certain situations require an expression of gratitude. We learn to express this in other situations as we go along, and develop behaviors to show that gratitude. While some rude and ungrateful people exist, they are by no means the norm. We should not be put off by these people, nor should we necessarily hold their lack of gratitude against them. It is important to say thank you as acknowledgement of the choices the people you are thanking have made. Nobody has to do things a certain way, and they certainly don't have to do things for you. The vast majority of the work we do and behaviors we employ are voluntary. Thank you is a personal acknowledgement of our dependence on others, and appreciation of the effort and time provided. In Economics, the main theme is scarcity and distribution of scarce goods. What is more scarce than time and effort? While prices put a value on that time and effort, "Thank you" recognizes the time and effort in a personal manner. Not saying "Thank you" doesn't mean we don't care about others and their effort, but it may imply we don't. It is a sign of respect. Without any gratitude, graciousness, or thankfulness, life can be empty and not very enjoyable at all.
What I noticed, as I studied this, was that "Thank you" is a personal choice, it's a personal acknowledgement.
That's when I realized the public "Thank you" at the start of meetings is similar to what is known as the "Humblebrag". You publicly thanking others may make you look gracious - but in reality you're holding yourself up to show that YOU are gracious enough to thank others. Thanking others publicly in the situation of the meeting may make some people feel good for being recognized for work they've done, but from my standpoint it's the person doing the thanking who is holding themselves up in a manner of "See How Gracious I Am?"
If you're unfamiliar with the "Humblebrag" I'm certain you've seen or heard one before. "I'm so thankful you were able to drive me to the airport so I could fly to Italy and meet the Pope. Your effort is greatly appreciated."
Most "Thank Yous" in these meetings aren't "Humblebrags" in that sense. But the reason I feel they are is because the SVP keeps track of who says thank yous. He knows who says them and who doesn't. He requires people to speak up. As a result, not saying thank you publicly means you're not gracious. From my perspective, however, saying "Thank You" is tantamount to self-promotion. Because a good, well-rehearsed or funny "Thank You" gets a compliment from the SVP.
It's my job. I do my job well. My "thank you" is in a pay packet every two weeks, and in a bonus (hopefully) at the end of the year. It shows up in promotions, or rewards if they are available. It shows up in days off here and there. "Thank You" is evident every time I want to work from home and I'm allowed to. The very real "Thank You" is the fact I have a job when others don't.
I don't begrudge him and his desire to build a culture of graciousness. That's a net positive. We SHOULD be gracious, caring and say "Thank You". But I am very uncomfortable with the forced nature of opening meetings with a "Thank You" - to be honest, I find it very disturbing for myself. Maybe I'm just overly skeptical.
I have a habit of posting longer pieces, but this will be relatively short. A friend called today, asking if I could help her daughter find an internship. Of course, I love helping young people, so I said fine and asked what her major was. &q
Weblog: Maggie's Farm
Tracked: Oct 03, 18:22
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Trumped-up smarmy bs bothers the heck out of me. I even prefer fake irritability to that.
I can see your points and I understand them. I agree that requiring a thank you would be uncomfortable - for more reasons than those that you've expressed.
But I think public gratitude like this is worthwhile for a few reasons:
- It opens the meeting on a positive note (for most people)
- It encourages dialog with co-workers
- The positive feelings have a 'halo effect' on other people
- People begin to look for things to bring up in the 'thankful' segment of the meeting throughout their day
When I re-read your opinions, it occurred to me that you might have the "I do it, so everyone else can do it too" perspective on this behavior. I may be arguing against a straw-man, but most people don't have behaviors of gratitude and positive feedback. You are exceptional. And sometimes exceptional people project their habits and abilities onto other people.
(How can I say you are exceptional - you have ~380 entries in this blog. Of the 7 billion people on Earth, how many have internet, how many use blogs, how many post regularly? You are in a small minority of people who regularly create. To me, that means the label 'exceptional' is accurate.)
Something else I've learned about people is that speaking in groups is difficult (#1 fear is that of giving a speech). Personally, I've experienced many conversations in private and encouraged a person to speak up at a meeting. "Oh no, I could never say that to the team!" Just as the "mob mentality" can cause a person lose inhibitions to do bad things they wouldn't normally do, "group encouragement" can cause them to do things too. So having a team that openly thanks can cause a person to lose their inhibitions and speak up.
I think my important point is that this exercise probably isn't aimed at getting more participation at you. He knows it works and is probably looking to get less the exceptional people to be more interactive and positive focused. However, if you do participate, think of it not being about you, but of you encouraging others to be more open, grateful and aware. Lead by example, if you will.
My company used BZ's (bravo Zulu's) but they were far more rare than a daily occurrence. There are times to recognize excellent work but on a daily basis would devalue the recognition. BZ was at best a monthly recognition of certain individuals, usually several months.
I'm with Bulldog on this one. Gratitude and appreciation are best given and received on a more personal level and expressed in the moment or at a more appropriate time. Much like apologies. I would also reserve these things to those times rather than give them out in a public setting. There are times when that might be the appropriate time, but this policy feels more like virtue signaling and indeed "humblebragging" rather than a sincere expression of gratitude.
The points you made about why he does it are absolutely correct. He wants to open on a positive note, he wants people to feel recognized, he wants to encourage open dialog (he says, though without going into detail, he has RULES for that dialog...rules I find equally stifling).
I find it smarmy superficiality in the extreme.
Here's the one thing I deliberately DID NOT mention.
He is a massive narcissist. HUGE. In EVERY meeting, someone THANKS HIM for his leadership, and he does the "humblebrag" dismissal wave with a big smile. I can list his narcissistic tendencies at length...but won't, it would take too long, and some would say it's tangential.
I don't think it is. I think he loves the humblebrag, because he does it so much.
Speaking in groups, for me, is not difficult if I have something to say or something to add. Most times, I don't. What I've noticed, with the new management, is that when I do - he often says something like "let's put in a pin in that and deal with it later" (we never do) or "good points, but I don't feel like this is the right time or place for that discussion."
My thoughts and additions are rarely added to his summaries.
In fact, they never are.
As for his rules for dialog. He wants a frank discussion of issues, but nothing negative. If you have a negative commentary, you have to frame it within a positive.
"We are failing to meet financial goals" should be "We need to work harder to meet our goals."
"We're not going to complete this on time" should be "we've completed the bulk of the project and will extend the deadline to fine tune it."
I could provide more examples, but it's all classic superficlal BS designed to get people into a mindset of what he believes is "success". I say it's a mindset of failure because you wind up spending more time working to figure out the proper way of saying something than addressing the REAL issue.
To wit - he started his tenure with one of the worst quarters on record. He then oversaw 2 quarters of vastly improved year over year performance, but was still falling short of goal. The fourth quarter started strong, and fell off the chart. It's not all his fault. I just think he's so focused on the superficial stuff, he's got people paying attention to the wrong things.
Results drive attitude. Fake behavioral nonsense is a nice short term fix, but it dies quickly.
I'd have no problem with that.
Once a month, a newsletter or meeting with a few thank yous taking place, mainly to exceptional people, events or outcomes.
The forcing of the "Thank You" at each meeting is what makes it seem very fake. People go out of their way to FIND someone to thank just so they have one...
A thank you that is required is not a thank you.
I have, in meetings, made it a point to publicly thank someone who covered a lapse on my part, or did an exceptional job at something because doing good should be it's own reward, but at the same time should be rewarded.
Bulldog, your SVP is on stage with a formula he has devised. Think of yourself as another valuable actor on that same stage. Play his game - it's not a big deal. You don't have to speak at every meeting. Make an occasional thanks to someone in a brief spoken sentence and then think about better things in your life than this small thorn in your side. If you overthink about the issue, the thorn grows.
As I've said, that's a common response.
But speaking IS required. Not necessarily for the Thank You's, each and every time. But it IS required. He even makes it a point to say that people who do not speak are not welcome.
That's why I make it a point to say SOMETHING at each meeting.
Playing the game is probably the most common response I receive. It's my view that people who say that:
1. Have never worked in an office for very long
2. Haven't got much experience or strong value sets
3. Are only interested in getting ahead at any cost, even if you swallow your pride for the better portion of your career.
You know what the difference between a brown noser and an ass-kisser is?
Basic military etiquette; "Praise in public, criticize in private." When your co-workers make your own job easier, thank them. Best would in on the spot or shortly thereafter, but this public thanking in staff meetings isn't the worst way to do it.
No it's not. Even in my initial post I state that it's not horrible or disturbing.
What IS problematic is the 'keeping score' aspect of it. The expectation that everyone should, at some point, take part in the culture of "Thank you".
That requirement is what makes it cringeworthy.
At school in Australia we had a thing called 'warm fuzzies'. They were an anonymous note to someone letting them know why someone, (you), thought they were great.
I had always kinda considered them to be cheesy and silly, but now after reading this piece I have had to reappraise my attitude towards them.
Because of the fact that they were anonymous.
The teachers were promoting a culture of gratitude with one of humbleness. Bulldog, I entirely agree with your views on this matter. This sort of thing would sit very uneasily for the same reasons that you mentioned. To top it all off, your narcissistic VP is building his cohort of sympathizers; the ones who are more than willing to suck up to go up. He will indeed be keeping notes of exactly who is not getting with the program and performing the dancing monkey role.
It is even more insidious because it stems from a false culture of perceived goodness and generosity.
He is building a team, without a doubt, but it is his team. Those who are loyal to him, not necessarily to the company.
You’re describing my last boss to a T. And that’s why he was my last boss. 30 years self-employed with no regrets. I’ve never been one to suffer A-holes quietly which has no doubt cost me a client or two. But losing a client is far easier to deal with than losing a job.
I try to thank people every day for serving me. As an example, when I stop in 7-11 for a drink I usually will say to the clerk, "Thank you for coming to work today." Most will smile and nod but a few will ask me what I mean. I tell them that if they weren't there I wouldn't be able to buy my drink so even though they may think of their job as no big deal it's a big deal to me. I usually get wonderful responses to that. Serving each other is what makes our whole world work and it's worthwhile to remind each other of that.
I think it's a good idea to acknowledge publicly anything that works well. You may assume everyone knows it's being done and works, but they don't.