Mike Robbins was drafted by the New York Yankees to play baseball right out of high school. Instead, he chose to play for Stanford (not bad for a second choice) and then signed a pro contract for the Kansas City Royals. One pitch into his third season of the minors, he blew his arm out and his major league baseball career was over.

This is the basis for Robbins Ted Talk on the power of appreciating what you have. Unfortunately, too many of us don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone – which was the case for Robbins baseball career. Robbins goes on to discuss how he put years and years into playing baseball, always focused on the next step and becoming the best without actually appreciate the journey and the joy that baseball brought him. Until it was all over.

After baseball, Robbins moved into the corporate world – but the lesson on appreciation stuck with him throughout his career. He studied how appreciation impacted relationships, teams, goals, leadership and group dynamics. He quit his job and wrote a book entitled, “Focus on the Good Stuff” to encourage others to focus on appreciation. Today, he delivers inspirational keynote addresses and interactive seminars to audiences throughout the world.  His clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Gap, Adobe, the US Department of Labor, eBay, Harvard University, Genentech, Schwab, the San Francisco Giants, and many others.

employee happy

Recognition vs. Appreciation 

As Mike discusses, there is an important distinction between “recognition” and “appreciation.” Of course they are related, but definitely not the same thing.

Recognition is being recognized for doing something good. You accomplish something, you get recognized. Recognition is limited and based on performance. Appreciation, however, is about recognizing the value of a person. Appreciation isn’t about what you did (or didn’t do), it’s about an authentic acknowledgment of the value of a human being.

Everyone understands that meeting deadlines, accomplishing goals, recognizing results is important. What we are missing is that the recognition is not motivating, it’s the appreciation that is key.

Appreciating someone doesn’t mean you approve of someone, are friendly with someone, or even like them. It is about acknowledging their value as a human being separate from their performance at work. You can recognize the value in any human being, because it’s not about what they do – it’s about who they are, which is just simply a human. That’s all – they don’t have to earn appreciation, it’s not about them – it’s about you.

Why Employee Appreciation Matters

In a study by the Department of Labor, 64% of people who left their jobs did so because they didn’t feel appreciated. It had nothing to do with salary, benefits, location, etc. Their sense of feeling appreciation trumped everything else. On the flip side, managers and leaders who understand the importance of employee appreciation can retain their top talent, build strong teams, and develop more productivity within the organization.

Appreciation is the number one driving force behind whether employees stay or go. Leaders, teams, organizations, and individuals who understand this distinction can have much more impact, meaning, and productivity in their lives and with the people around them.

Some of the most powerful people in the world have understood the importance of valuing others. In a commencement speech at Harvard, Oprah commented on this when she said:

“I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience….The common denominator that I found in every single interview is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I’ve done over 35,000 interviews in my career. And as soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and inevitably, in their own way, asks this question: “Was that OK?” I heard it from President Bush. I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyoncé in all of her Beyoncé-ness….[We] all want to know one thing: ‘Was that OK?’ ‘Did you hear me?’ ‘Do you see me?’ ‘Did what I say mean anything to you?’”

Showing appreciation isn’t about productivity, the bottom line, or meeting deadlines. It’s about building trust, connection, and relationships. Those three things will make a company unstoppable.

happy employee

How to Appreciate More 

Robbins suggests a few simple things we can do to start expressing our appreciation for other people more effectively.

  1. Understanding what makes us feel appreciated. Often it is something simple and personal like a compliment or the happiness we bring to others. Make sure that the compliment is integrated to the person as an individual, not their accomplishments or skills.
  • Practicing appreciating others. This means recognizing the value of others without any preconceived notions. Teddy Roosevelt is famous for the phrase, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Check in on others around you to see how they are doing, not just what they are doing. If necessary, put this practice in your calendar, set yourself a reminder, or make a goal to appreciate 3 people every day.
  • Start receiving compliments. As you share appreciation, you may find more appreciation coming your way. You have to be willing to accept this. This is a way that we accept that we have value. Simply say “Thank You”. Don’t let your own insecurities ruin the value someone else has given you.

As you start to practice employee appreciation, it may feel a little odd – or even ingenuine.  It’s not something most of us are used to doing. We like to praise others when they DO something, not just acknowledge their worth for simply BEING. However, you will find what you look for – find ways to appreciate others. Look for ways to appreciate yourself. And begin to see the difference in makes in you, your team, and your company.