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Recognition and feedback. Some managers and leaders agonise about this stuff but it does not have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be complex.

In fact, it’s this simple …

The year is 1996. I was a newly-appointed and recently-arrived HR/Recruitment Manager. My dream job, one about which I was delighted. I had really landed on my feet into a role which I loved and in which I truly developed.

I had an idea: in order to build my reputation why not find a way of really focusing on my key internal clients? And so I had a list of them in my notebook and every week, or even every day, I would check the list and ask myself “have I helped them meet their objectives?” or “have I had a meaningful conversation with them recently?’. And, if I had’t spoken to them for a while, even if there was no particular reason to be in touch I would wander the floors and ask them  if they needed anything from me. Often the conversations that flowed were really useful. Even a “No thanks” was helpful.

One morning, as a result of one of these conversations, I was due to meet one of these stakeholders for an early & important meeting. I was due to give him a progress report on a critical project. If I was a new Manager, he was a senior-ranking Partner. Stratospheric in comparison … although he never made me feel that way and I was determined to treat all Partners as key clients without being too deferential. A fine line to tread.

That morning I got up very early, breakfasted and set off in good time for the meeting. Only to find transport chaos. I battled to the office through packed carriages, taking a seemingly interminable detour, overheating so my immaculate shirt looked like it had just been through the wringer and feeling stressed. Why stressed? Because I prided, and pride, myself on being early or, at least, on time for any commitment.

I arrived at work, found a couple of minutes to gather my thoughts and to straighten my clothes. I composed myself as I wandered around the corner for the meeting. I was to greeted by Charlie who looked up, smiled, said “good morning Tony” and then, crucially, added …

“Punctual, as ever.”

In that moment, and after the journey I had just had, they were three precious words. They meant the world to me. They recognised that I was on time. They fed back to me that he’d noticed that I was in the habit of being on time. Those words cost him nothing. All he had to do was think and make the effort. They made me feel recognised. Engaged even.

So, next time you are thinking that you don’t have time to give feedback or to recognise your team members, please remember this tale. This isn’t difficult. In fact it is really easy. It’s about the choices you make, about what you choose to say as opposed to what remains unsaid, about the habits you develop. The effort you put into recognition.

Three words. That is all.

Which will your words be?