The brain really likes feeling important, but it’s not just about giving out raises or promotions (although that’s okay, too). As a manager, there are simple ways to activate the brain’s reward response by helping people feel important and give them a sense of clout. And, you can activate the brain’s threat response just as easy…in fact, you can activate the threat response easier. Let’s look at some tips to give clout and tips to keep from taking away clout.
Give Clout: Think about circumstances that make you feel a wee-bit important: the really-big boss complements you by name; your input is specifically requested; a colleague demonstrates respect for your idea; you are invited to lunch with the inner-circle of top performers; your project team receives an award; the client tells your boss about the good work you do. With each example, your brain does a happy dance.
How can you, as a manager, create that same brain-based happy dance for your staff, team, or client? For top performers, send a hand-written thank you note, go for coffee together, give a shout-out in an important meeting, or offer them a career-development conversation. The gift of your attention feels like clout.
For clients or citizens, you might: call the client for their input on a key decision; tell the citizen that you appreciate their dedication to the project; send a thank you note at the end of the job noting a positive influence the client or citizen had; or praise the active citizen in a public meeting. The key to applying this brain switch is sincerity.
Lose Clout: Without thinking about it, we can easily do behaviors that diminish clout from staff or teams. This time, let’s think about it so you can stop this from happening.
Think of times when you felt sidelined or marginalized despite your best efforts. You worked hard and someone else got the credit. You are ready for that next big assignment but don’t get the opportunity. You are ready for the meeting to discuss options but you can’t get a word in edgewise.
From a manager’s perspective, it helps to be mindful of the impact your words and choices have on people. I’m not suggesting that you pander or give everyone a reward. I am suggesting that you be aware of work effort and the impact your words – or lack of them – can have. I rarely run into staff who say their bosses complement them too much (frankly, I’ve never had that happen).
Try this. Double check yourself in meetings to make sure that all ideas are heard – especially the quiet, reserved people. They have lots to contribute but may struggle to get a verbal foothold in a lively meeting. Have you asked for input from those on the front lines of a situation? And in those instances where you must have a tough performance conversation with an employee, don’t mention it in front of others.
The rewarded brain is more likely to be productive than the threatened brain – and the owner of the rewarded brain is more likely to stick around. Take a few minutes to tweak your approach to give not take clout.
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