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Make Your Praise More Memorable, Widely Shared and Long Lasting

My client, the CFO of a Berlin-based maker of wireless portal equipment had a rugged yet very successful third year of operation where all employees voluntarily worked long hours. Part of the way he wanted to collectively celebrate the company’s success was to hand out ten awards for different kinds of contributions. Yet, in addition to the usual way of celebrating the winners at an on-site company gathering he got an idea about how to make the recognition matter even more deeply felt and widely heard and shared.

Here’s how. He confidentially spoke with a close working colleague of each winner about what other organizations were important to that winner. He discovered the groups included a church, rugby club, non-profit that mentored foster kids, and a college alumnae organization and a cycling federation.

With the permission of these organizations, the CEO arranged to be at one of their gatherings to give the award and an eight-minute speech, describing both a specific example of how that winner helped the company – and the admirable character traits that action demonstrated. As he praised each person, the glow of the values he admired reflected back on him and his company.

Thus each (surprised) winner got to bask in the spotlight in front of individuals they value in another part of their life. Also as the CEO praised each person, the glow of the values he admired reflected back on him and on his firm. Thus the CEO’s greater effort put his company in a genuinely positive light in many new places.

A month after these ceremonies a feature writer for the “lifestyle” section of the main Berlin newspaper heard her husband, an avid rugby player, telling their friends about the unusual, heartwarming award at his rugby club. She smelled a novel story. She tracked down the CEO and interviewed him. She was touched by the way the ceremonies had rippled out to affect the winners in other parts of their lives.

The reporter also interviewed the winners and several of the people at the organizations where the awards events occurred and then wrote a human interest story that appeared, with photos, in a Sunday edition. The article generated several glowing letters to the editor by people who witnessed the ceremonies, the winners and others who were also moved by the story.

John Sunui, a vice president of sales for Singapore-based construction management firm happened to read that article online. That sparked his thinking. A few months later, in Singapore and 14 other countries where Sunui’s company has offices, both the office director and one person in each office who has done an outstanding job at their work, as voted by their co-workers, was happily surprised when they walked door at some place that is special to them. They were greeted by their friends at that place, then a company representative gave give them an award and a gift. The company representative described how that winner had helped the firm and asked those gathered to join in toasting that winner with wine and punch that was donated by Sunui for this celebration. Ah the power of the ripple effect of a novel method that makes more people look good.

Your Next step: for each person envision what group to which they are affiliated (family, religious organization, hobby or other interest or professional group, etc.) would be most significant for that person if you were to praise them in front of the members of that group.

You have several ways to praise about the people that you are thankful to have in your life. may simply call, email or write to someone – sending your message to one of that person’s valued affinity groups (a bike club, church or?), sharing your story that praises that person. Or you may, like the people in the story above, ask for permission to confer a gift on the person at a gathering of their group. In advertising this method is called a “third party endorsement.” For example, when customers praise a product in an advertisement they are providing a credible third party endorsement.

Because we are all instinctive voyeurs, naturally interested in the stories of each other’s lives we are drawn to third party endorsements more than advertisements. Further, when we hear a positive story about someone we tend to instinctively find it more credible than if the person was to “boast” about it to us.

Here are other ways to offer heartfelt, fast-spreading and long-lasting third party endorsement gifts to those you deeply admire and thus seek to leverage your visible support of them:

• Seek out places that person frequents and see if you might buy a needed piece of equipment or repair in that person’s name. In our Sausalito church you can buy a hymnal and dedicate it, with a related phrase, to someone. So every Sunday, someone at my church opens up a hymnal with this caligraphied message on the inside front, dedicated to my mother who loves piano music, “To Lestelle who’s piano playing washes away the dust of everyday life.”

• On an object which that person might use frequently (coffee mug, bath towel, key holder) imprint or monogram a positive nickname or one phrase characterization of the “hero’s” action. For my English rugby-playing friend, Richard, we’re giving a glass beer stein this holiday with these words etched on the bottom, “Great giver of bone-crushing hugs.”

• Make a large, colorful postcard where you use your computer to print a description of the positive incident involving your hero. Then ask your colleagues who agree to join in signing it before sending it to that person’s home.

• Give a gift to the person’s partner in work or personal life, as an acknowledgement of your admiration.

• Make a banner or poster, with a celebratory sentence and an enlarged and flattering image of the hero and hang it in a prominent place (wall or door of the person’s office, home or event).

• Find a place the person frequents (dry cleaner, golf club) and offer the business manager at that site your credit card number with a set dollar limit. Ask the manager to pay the next bill of your hero, fax you a copy of the bill, and hand the manager a gift card with your inscription on it to be given to the hero at their next visit.

• Try a variation of this story. Two years ago I learned that Janice, a meeting planner who had hired me to speak at her association several times over the years, and who was exceptionally gracious and generous with me, had contracted leukemia and was not doing well. I learned this from her assistant who called to confirm some details of my next presentation at their annual conference.

On a long plane flight back from another speaking engagement, I looked out the window, thinking of Janice, and conjured up this idea for a third party endorsement of the Hawaiian-born meeting planner which would reflect one of her most passionate interests, gardening. I called the association’s executive director to share my idea and he immediately agreed.

Two months later, just after I was introduced to speak at that association’s convention’s opening breakfast, I moved to the center of the raised stage, signaling the 500 attendees to also rise from their seats as the board president caught the elbow of our surprised meeting planner, Jana, who at the bottom of the stage steps, still focused on making sure the room lighting would be alright for my speech.

He guided her up the steps as I stepped back to the side of the stage and the first person in the audience, roving mike in his hand told the first vignette of how Jana had guided him at the beginning of his career. As Jana reached the center of the stage, in front of the people she had served for 14 years, eight other people in various parts of the room lifted their mike and told their brief story about her.

Then a saxaphone player stepped out from the side of the stage to serenade Janice with a fragment of her favorite Kenny G song as the screen on the stage was filled with these purple words on an emerald green (her favorite colors) background, “Jana is a special flower” followed by a swift changing set of images of Janice in several becoming situations.

As the song ended, on cue, all 500 people pulled from out of their pockets and purses the fragrant Hawaiian-grown white flowers — gardenias, tuber roses and pikaki and held them aloft towards Jana. The board president handed Jana a bouquet of the same mix of flowers and asked Jana to speak, which she did, briefly, through her tears.

Even several of the hotel waiters in the room stood still, with a few tears coming down their cheeks. Of course, my scheduled keynote was delayed so streams of people could drop by Jana’s table to say hello through the ensuing luncheon.

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