The ‘little things’ that make a big difference…

10 minute read

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may realise they were the big things.” These are the words I have hanging in a small frame to the right of my kitchen window overlooking the garden. I was drawn to the embroidered ‘art’ in a small shop in The Lake District a decade or so ago, at a time when struggling with coming to terms with my ‘new life’ in the early days of parenthood. The words have bought me strength and reassurance over the years and I reflect on their wise accuracy often…

It’s true that the ‘little things’, not just in parenthood but day to day life (especially during these never-ending days of Lockdown) have brought me the greatest joy and counted for most – they make me feel connected and good inside and motivate me to get through each day with a smile.

The intrinsic reward these small things (be they observations, words, sounds, actions or interactions) afford me, brings me on to the importance of the seemingly ‘little things’ in our place of work too and how they make us feel. How many times have you been sat at your desk or at your work station in the morning when a colleague or ‘leader’ walks straight past without even a small acknowledgment? How did it make you feel?

Having experienced the above in previous roles, quite frankly it never set me up well for the day ahead or inspired me to care much for what I was there to do. Why should I give my all if seemingly those I worked with/for were incapable of being human and taking time to acknowledge and show comradery? These two human behaviours alone won’t increase employee engagement directly, but they most certainly impact on our intrinsic well-being and our motivation toward our work. How different does it make you feel when a team member greets you in the morning; a manager in the business drops by your desk/work station to recognise and thank you for your efforts on a particular issue; or a colleague pings across an email to acknowledge your contribution on something? It feels good doesn’t it – AND it feels even better to pay it forward for someone else!

It’s my belief that it truly is the ‘little things’ (the more human things) that can go a long way to improve well-being and motivation in our work teams, especially during challenging times like these. And whilst a focus on acknowledgment may not feature on a ‘to do’ list (it should be instinctive human behaviour in my mind, but sadly it’s seen by some as slightly ‘fluffy’ or they believe they’re too busy for ‘small talk’), I propose that now is the time to uphold acknowledgement and make time. We all deserve to feel good right now and could do with much needed human connection. 

…The greatest gift you can give in business is to notice someone, to see the individual and to show that they matter

Penny Power

With this in mind I wish to highlight four ‘little things’ we could all do more of (myself included) to acknowledge and recognise others at work, because actually – I have realised these things are ‘the big things’ and they make a real difference…

Verbal and non-verbal gestures of acknowledgement

Appreciate this is tricky if working remotely, but if at work (and certainly once you get back) take time to look-up, observe and make eye contact with others, smile, wave, give the thumbs-up – any gesture that shows you’ve seen your colleague(s) when they walk past, enter the room/work space, hand you something or even when crossing at the coffee station or similar. It sounds so obvious but it’s surprising how easy it is to forget these little things when working to deadlines, talking with others, checking one’s phone or ‘busy’ – a gesture of acknowledgement can be so powerful in terms of our feel-good factor (both in giving and receiving) and for levels of motivation. Taking the time to verbally acknowledge colleagues takes on even greater meaning at the receiving end than a gesture alone. And if you’re the one being acknowledged, do make sure you return the gesture (they say a smile is contagious!) and ‘pay it forward’.

Being human is one hundred percent free – and when the purse strings are perhaps tight and engagement levels seemingly low, little acknowledgements and gestures can form the basis of an easy, yet amazingly effective way of connecting and recognising colleagues and teamwork.

Make time to ‘really see’ people

When people acknowledge us, we feel a connection with them. Taking the time to really ‘see’ people by acknowledging and listening to them is so important to well-being, motivation and a healthy work culture. In her book ‘Business is Personal’ Penny Power concurs that ‘…The greatest gift you can give in business is to notice someone, to see the individual and to show that they matter…’.  

Certainly, this can be harder to achieve if working remotely, but even so – a check in call or a personalised email to a team member (recognising how they’ve gone above and beyond during these difficult times and saying thank you for their commitment) for instance, can be a great way to show genuine interest in an individual. In my opinion, it’s these unexpected and seemingly little acknowledgements that can really make a difference to how we feel about work and who we work for. 

As a leader, do make a habit of walking around your business area(s) during the course of each day and make time to observe and have a personal chat with colleagues, to listen. Why not invite teams for an informal catch-up over coffee once in a while, if not doing so already? Not only will this give you opportunity to ‘really see’ your team(s) but it’s also great for leaders to ‘be seen’ too (you will be considered more accessible, ‘human’ and role-modelling the behaviours you expect of others) – it will all help foster connections and a culture of well-being, togetherness and recognition. 

Peer to peer recognition

Teamwork and fostering a culture where colleagues and team mates are inspired to acknowledge or recognise one another for their contributions and good work, will encourage greater connectivity and team morale, improved co-operation and an overall sense of increased motivation and subsequent productivity. With an emphasis on communication (as always!) collaborative or networking tools like Slack, Trello, Monday and so forth can really assist with building a culture of peer to peer recognition, acknowledgement and ‘paying it forward’ (boosting a cycle of motivation) due to their immediate reach and propensity to be seen by more people. In fact, it is especially useful right now when many of us are working remotely. 

Whatever form it takes, I think organisations would be wise to ensure they have a mechanism in place for employees to formally recognise each other’s contributions. Leaders should make sure they are genuinely involved too, so that employees feel ‘seen’ and it shows that the business cares. Simple gestures such as giving them a handshake and dropping them a note as soon as you can is the obvious way to provide authentic and personal acknowledgement (meaningful recognition doesn’t need have to have a material value). 

Provide opportunity for employees to ‘be seen’ more formally

Ensure there are programmes of opportunity in your business that enable all employees to voice their ideas and then empower them to implement their changes and ideas. Give employees then the chance to visibly demonstrate these achievements to peers and leadership and let them know how they have made a difference to organisational goals and objectives – this takes acknowledgement (and following recognition) to a more elevated and formal level.

At the showcase events we have the pleasure to help arrange for clients at the end of their annual Programme cycles, participants regularly tell us that the things they enjoyed most about taking part in the Programme was having their ideas listened to; the opportunity to mix and chat with senior leaders; and to feel ‘seen’ because leaders acknowledged who they were and what they’re about. For leaders to make time for an informal chat; to show interest in who they are and their achievements; and to acknowledge how their contribution added value to the organisation, followed by a sincere ‘thank you’ – makes a huge difference to the individuals motivation levels and engagement with their work, it’s powerful stuff!

To conclude, I think Simon Sinek couldn’t have put it better in his Valentine’s Day LinkedIn vlog, where he used an analogy for helping employees engage (‘fall in love’) with the business. He posted that “Love doesn’t happen overnight. We fall in love with someone when they show us, consistently, that they’re willing to put our needs ahead of their own. It’s the small, seemingly insignificant actions that add up over time, until one day we wake up and say, “I love you.” Adding in the content that ‘It’s not about the events. It’s not about the intensity. It’s about consistency’. 

…It’s the small, seemingly insignificant actions that add up over time, until one day we wake up and say “I love you…”.

Simon Sinek

Counterargument for love at first-sight aside, I can’t agree more. I believe it’s the small human and authentic gestures and acknowledgements, plus the consistent giving of one’s time to listen and recognise others that leaders (and of course team mates) can commit that will help establish a work culture that motivates and ultimately engages employees. After all, the effort required to acknowledge and recognise others is minimal, yet the benefits that an organisation can realise through a motivated and engaged workforce make the personal time invested worthwhile. The ‘little things’ really are the BIG things and they do make a big difference. … And, on a more personal level moving forward (trying to take some positive from the last 12months!), I believe we’ll all have greater appreciation for the ‘little things’ in life that we may have previously taken for granted – because it turns out, they really are the big things that we’ve all missed this last year.

With that, and in the spirit of acknowledgement (and leading by example), thank you for reading.