Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm
 
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Where Is My Praise?

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The Spa magazine in Japan released the results of a survey of 1,140 male full-time employees in their 40s, about what they hated about their jobs.  The top four complaints were salaries have not risen because of decades of deflation; a sense of being underappreciated and under evaluated and a lost sense of purpose. 
Feeling unappreciated and under evaluated are both boss failings.  This is the direct result of decades of neglect of the soft skills of leadership. 
 
The feeling of being valued by the boss and the organisation is the trigger to producing high levels of engagement for your work.  Japan is renown for always scoring poorly on international comparative engagement surveys.  The global study on engagement by Dale Carnegie showed that feeling valued was the key factor.  The results for Japan were the same. 
 
Good to know that we have the answer at hand to improve levels of engagement.  By the way, disengaged or hardly engaged staff are not going to add any additional extras to their work or be motivated to come up with a better way of doing things.  Innovation requires some sense of caring about the organization.  So work productivity and innovation both need higher levels of engagement to help us get anywhere.
 
Fine, but so what?  How do we get leaders who were raised in a different world of work – the bishibishi (relentlessly super strict) school of leading to now switch to becoming more warm and fuzzy?  Telling them to do so is an interesting intervention by senior management that will go precisely nowhere.  This requires re-education on what we need from our leaders.  The most widespread system of education in corporate Japan is OJT (On The Job Training).  How does your bishibishi boss change mindset alone?  They can’t. That is why training is required to better inform bosses about how to gain willing cooperation from subordinates, instead of just pulling rank on them to drive their obedience.
 
How to deal with mistakes is a key to the future in a society that hasn’t worked out that mistakes are the glide path to success.  Japan is a mistake free zone and this is a big disincentive to experiment, to try the new.  Locating oneself in the middle of your comfort zone makes the best sense, if you want to avoid all change efforts.  If you want innovation, progress then change must be embraced.  That also means including risk.  The risk of error.
 
If the internal evaluation process is used to re-live all the failings and insufficiencies of the staff, then don’t expect your shop to become a hotbed of innovation anytime soon.  Leaders need to be helping staff lead intentional lives.  Goals, strategies to achieve the goals, milestones, targets all come as part of the package.  This is different from being Mr. or Ms. Perfect and holding the team to standards you yourself can never possibly achieve.
 
Encouraging people to come out of their comfort zones and try new things requires a lot of communication skills.  It requires feedback, but not critique.  Telling people they are wrong may make the boss feel superior and good, but it kills staff motivation and interest in doing things any differently.  Good/better feedback is a better strategy.  Tell them what they are doing that is going well and praise them for that.  Tell them what they could do to make things go even better.  The point is communicated but in a much better way and will be received in a more positive frame.  
 
Because of the old fashioned style of management in vogue here, Japanese bosses are actually untrained in how to give praise.  "Good  Job" is not praise.  That is a very vague reflection on a piece of work.  Tasks have many facets and just which part of that project did they do well?  We need bosses to be specific about which bit was done well and how.  We then explain how that task fits into the big picture of the organization and encourage them to keep doing that task well.  
 
The boss in japan has to do better.  The soft skills area is where the greatest productivity gains will come from because hard skills education in Japan is already maximized.  This is the next frontier of leadership and if Japan can unlock the full potential of its worker population, we are in for an exciting future.
 
 
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