The road to success is paved with thank yous

By Stephanie Shewchuk

The power of positive thinking is hardly a new concept. Since the eponymous self-help classic first appeared in the 1950s, many have utilised this method to overcome failure and succeed in various aspects of their lives.

The approach has prominently figured in the workplace during the past decade, not just among individuals looking to move up the corporate ladder, but also at the management level as a means of encouraging employees.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, businesses have bestowed nap rooms and in-house massage facilities upon their employees in the belief that a little relaxation will help increase overall productivity.

While conditions like these are uncommon for most, many bosses nowadays are moving away from traditional rigid management techniques and are instead harnessing the power of positive encouragement to engage with staff members.

"The old-fashioned approach to management assumes that all workers are lazy and need to be managed closely to make them perform," says James Manktelow, CEO of Mind Tools, an online career management company.

"This leads to confrontational relationships in the workplace, where bosses manage people aggressively, and resentful employees do as little work as they can get away with."

As the role of management is to plan, direct and organise corporate initiatives, the success of their efforts is inextricably linked to the motivation of those involved with company directives at the ground level.

Without talented, inspired employees, even bold, well-planned ventures can fail.

In recent years, the retention of bright, skilled professionals has become a concern for those in management, especially in light of several prevailing factors.

Just last year, The Economist observed that baby boomers are flooding into retirement in America, Europe is facing a greying market and, in India and China, the large number of graduates masks low numbers of truly high-quality candidates.

Moreover, many in the workforce are feeling a sense of disengagement with their jobs and are not working to their potential.

According to global professional services firm Towers Perrin, a survey of 90,000 people spread among 19 countries showed eight out of 10 employees lack engagement with their work, which ultimately has the ability to cost a business up to half its potential income.

The main reason provided for such feelings was not an inherent lack of motivation but rather the level of senior management's interest in employee wellbeing.

In order to counter the effects of worker detachment, positive encouragement is taking off as a modern management strategy.

Managers are realising that personal engagement and positive reinforcement are tremendously effective in attracting ambitious and competent individuals.

"Praise can be enormously powerful in increasing people's productivity, and in helping people engage with their work so that they use their creativity and initiative," says Manktelow.

"You can see these directly in the quality of people's work.

"However, in popular culture, people often imagine bosses as hard, domineering people. New managers will always need to be trained in positive forms of motivation, so that they don't think this is how they have to be."

This generation of employees are unaccustomed to the notion of single-employer allegiance and will often work in a variety of areas over the course of a career.

In an era where job-hopping is the norm, mobility and flexibility are essential in combating a high employee turnover rate. Praise serves to emphasise the capacity for individuals to advance in their chosen occupation.

A career demographic typically overlooked by many managers is that of employees who have left but later returned to the same enterprise.

This so-called "boomerang" group of individuals may have experimented in different roles or sought greener pastures in other positions but have since re-established themselves at the company they once left.

Maintaining positive relations with former employees not only increases the possibility for talented employees to return, an emotional corporate loyalty is more likely to exist among those who have had an agreeable exit.

Women are also more likely than men to leave the workforce at some point in time, mainly to have children.

Instead of drawing a hard line and losing qualified female workers, some employers have responded by offering more flexible working hours or part-time status to appropriate individuals.

Giving employees the opportunity to grow and network within their current role is another effective means of positive encouragement. Businesses as diverse as auditing giant KPMG and Starbucks have introduced career advancement programmes, aimed at propelling keen and clever candidates through the company.

Although not everyone will aspire to the senior management level, they may still contribute extensively to the organisation with the added investment of further education and support. They are also more likely to stay for a longer period of time if they feel appreciated.

"Just think about this from your own perspective," says Manktelow.

"Do you work best for a boss who's always looking over your shoulder or for one who encourages you to do your best, and praises you when you've done a great job?"

The age-old strategy of negative reinforcement has gone the way of the typewriter, becoming outmoded in the face of more effective avenues.

"Nowadays, we recognise that most people start a new job eager to please," says Manktelow.

"Most people want to do their best, just as long as they're appreciated. Positive encouragement - praise - is part of this."

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