Leading with Appreciation

Criterion| Leadership

Leading with Appreciation


By Charlie Doyle

Over the years, I have found that there are several keys to professional success: Hard work, follow-through, technical excellence, perseverance, and being open and honest. When it comes to leadership, there are more attributes we can add to this list, from strategy chops to knowing how to get the best out of your team. All of these are present at Criterion, among its employees and its leadership team. At the heart of our company’s culture, however, is another attribute: appreciation. Appreciation is more than a simple “thank you” – it means acknowledging the effort people make and the value that they add, even when things don’t go according to plan.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review blog last winter, Mike Robbins (who also has a TEDx talk on the topic) wrote that employees need both recognition and appreciation. He states that recognition is “about giving positive feedback based on results or performance” and it can take the form of awards, bonuses, or even a personal email from the CEO. Recognition is motivating, but it has some limits. Robbins identifies four: it is conditional, it is based on the past, it is scarce, and it has to come from the top.

Appreciation is different and given for different reasons than recognition. It is “about acknowledging a person’s inherent value.” Or, as Robbins puts it succinctly, “Recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are.” For one, appreciation can value failure and lessons learned. Recognition cannot. Appreciation is therefore better at building trust and connection than recognition. He concludes, “Recognition is appropriate and necessary when it’s earned and deserved. Appreciation, however, is important all the time.”

Criterion is a Federal government contractor. Our employees and our customers are service-oriented, focused on supporting the mission of the Federal Departments and Agencies for which we collectively work. In my role as a senior vice president at Criterion, I see all of the kudos that come our way from customers for both our teams and individual employees. Many of these qualify as recognition for jobs well done. However, a significant portion are clearly appreciation for the effort and value that our employees have provided, even when things don’t go 100% as planned. It is clear to me that many people in government service intrinsically understand the value of appreciation.

We work hard, and times are uncertain. Appreciating each other’s efforts is an important part of our company culture, and is modelled by our CEO, Promod Sharma, and all of the senior management team. It extends outward from our company as well, as we seek to support organizations in our communities. We try to ensure that people understand they are valued for who they are as well as the work they do. And that makes a huge difference in the positive outlook we have across our company. We are not perfect, but we always strive to do the right thing, from our business practices to how we support our employees and customers. Our culture of demonstrating appreciation on a regular basis is one of the keys to our success.