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For most of us, appraisals are done, 2016 bonuses and/or promotions agreed and we’re marching headfirst into the business priorities of 2017.

However, outside of these formal reward and recognition structures, did we focus enough on the act of appreciation last year? Or rewarding people in what are often more meaningful ways than a bolstered pay packet?

The answer to this is usually no.

Every human being has a fundamental need to feel valued. Feeling that we have value goes part way to building a sense of purpose in life. Without a purpose, it’s very difficult to find motivation. It’s certainly hard to be engaged in anything if we don’t feel valued by those around us. As a leader, if you behave in a way that values others, you’ll unlock amazing engagement and performance levels and people will do things you never imagined possible.

For Gordon Watt, former Vice President of Systems Development at Galileo, an early experience of appreciation shaped his management style for the rest of his career. In his organisation design role during the merger between Covia and Galileo, he worked away from home a huge amount of the time and left a young family behind. At the end of the merger, the then CEO John Zeeman delivered a handwritten letter that was addressed to both Gordon and his wife. He delivered it personally and said he wanted to make sure it reached him. The letter expressed his appreciation for Gordon’s work during the merger and to his wife for managing a young family at home. With the letter was a £5,000 cheque as a token of that appreciation. The incredible thing about the incident was that John was leaving the company as a result of the merger but he’d still taken the time to keep Gordon engaged throughout the period of change and thank him at the end.

Later in Gordon’s career he regularly used the power of appreciation as a way to value others and engage them. When he saw that an individual had done something great, in the weekly team update for example, he’d find them and congratulate them personally by saying ‘well done’ but also inquiring about what had helped them make it happen. It showed he was genuinely interested, really understood the gravitas of what had been delivered and it was more than just a pat on the back.

It’s relatively easy to say ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ but they’re wasted words if the recipient doesn’t feel there is much understanding of the work that goes on behind the scenes. If you’re saying thank you for a job well done, explain why you believe it was such a good job and what the impact on others has been. The more specific you are, the more impact your appreciation will have on engagement levels. It’s also really important to appreciate people in a way that is meaningful to them i.e. thinking about how that individual likes to be appreciated.  The power of appreciating someone meaningfully and directly with not just a ‘thank you’, but more of a ‘what you did there made a fundamental difference because…’, in a way that they will individually appreciate is huge.

There’s a really interesting business that has grasped this concept – it’s called the Honoured Project and is a way of recognising people very personally and directly.  In a world where people love broadcasting on social media – this goes deeper; giving people a way of appreciating others directly and subtly that is totally between those two people and not about being public or ‘liking’ others.  It is incredibly powerful and something I believe we are going to see more and more.

Regularly practicing the act of appreciation is a wonderful and positive way to show that you value others. This will be a natural behaviour to some people, and completely alien to others. Be aware it may feel very uncomfortable if it’s not something you are used to doing, but stick with it. I remember one CEO with whom I worked telling me that regularly appreciating people by saying ‘well done’ was one of the hardest practises he’d ever had to undertake in his career. He found it personally difficult, but he persevered and three months later in our coaching sessions, he reflected how appreciating others had become such a natural and important part of his leadership style. I’ve come across others who always have pre-printed cards at hand to write notes of appreciation as soon as required.

I received a card from a colleague in Sony a few years ago.  It was a Vice President I had worked with and detailed how much he appreciated the work I’d done with him on his personal leadership style, how he’d valued the feedback I’d given him to grow and how I’d helped him personally and professionally. It was written from the heart, including some quite clunky language, as English wasn’t his native language, but it was so powerful to receive and I still have it to this day. As well as being on the receiving end, let’s not forget how it makes you feel as a person when you appreciate others. Appreciating others is a great way to feel good yourself and top up your own tank of positivity, energy and serotonin.  If you sit and write a letter to someone to appreciate them it feels like a very positive thing to do and thus also has an impact on your own personal resilience.

The act of appreciation is a big untapped opportunity in business today. Human nature means that we are motivated by so much more than status and pay grade and remembering this is vital. Make daily, personal appreciation of those around you a late New Year’s resolution and you’ll be amazed at the results it brings.

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