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Balancing Respect

change leadership joy research Dec 09, 2020

Written by Ed Cook

As we grow up, Respect is something we are taught to give. Children are told to respect their teachers and coaches and other adults. The Judeo-Christian Bible commands Respect for parents, placing the commandment, “Honor Thy Father and Mother, ” after commandments concerning God but before those concerning crimes.  “Respect your elders” has been demanded for thousands of years. Like Trust, Respect is often included in organizational statements of values.

But the direction from which Respect is demanded (consider it a vector) has changed. Respect is demanded by individuals. It is a cry of defiance against indifference. As a result, Respect appears even more frequently. Google’s Ngram Viewer shows this increase in the past few decades. There is tension between Respect for the individual and Respect for the organization (and, as we’ll see, another player), a tension at the heart of growing Joy at Work.

Respect Is About Inherent Human Value

This is what emerges from The Change Decision research on Joy at Work:

“Respect is about a recognition of my inherent value as a human being.”

-The Change Decision Joy Assessment

Respect is apparent when phrases like these are “true” in the minds of the organization’s people:

  • The words and actions of my group demonstrate they understand my inherent value. 
  • The unique contributions I’ve made (or can make) are understood. Greater still, those contributions are considered valuable to the group. 
  • My words and actions communicate this to others in my group, and their words and actions communicate this to me.

This recognition of inherent value is typically thought to have two vectors: Respect by the organization (represented by management) for the employee, and Respect by the employee for the organization. Our research, however, has revealed a third player whose involvement in Respect is equally important -- the customer. This sets up three players and therefore six vectors of Respect. To achieve Joy at Work, all six vectors of Respect must be in balance. 

Imagine this dynamic in the Triad of Respect. Think of an organization that is heavily customer-centric, even using the phrase “the customer is always right.” Taken to an extreme, Respect for the employee can be diminished. After all, if the customer is always right, then the employee is sometimes wrong, even when they have done what is expected by the organization. If Dale is the employee for the organization doing all that is expected, but the customer wants even more, and Curtis, the boss, admonishes Dale to deliver based on their organizational value that “The customer is always right,” then Respect for Dale is diminished. That exchange does not demonstrate an understanding of the inherent value of the employee. It is not a demonstration of Respect.

In another situation, this dynamic could play out in the opposite direction. What if Dale complains to others in the organization that their customers are often unreasonable, even trying to take advantage of the organization’s customer-centric value. What if Dale rants repeatedly about this? The sentiment will leak to the customer in ways both obvious and insidious. Certainly, the customer is not receiving the deserved Respect here. Their motivations are assumed to be selfish.

“When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be.”
-Thomas S. Monson

What if these interactions were examples of Respect? Employees would go the extra step to satisfy the customer, realizing the customer faces pressures in delivering to their own customers. Managers would recognize the pressure on employees to deliver and seek ways to provide support. Customers would engage beyond the transactional relationship and recognize the effort expended on their behalf.

Respect is a Process  

Respect is the outcome of a process, not an inherent trait. In addition to increasing Respect’s total amount, it must be balanced among three players -- the employee, the organization, and the customer. Respect builds on the expectation that all desire to transcend the transactional relationship.

  • Expectation: The manager assigns a goal for a task, expecting the best.
  • Outcome: The employee does the work and achieves an outcome.
  • Acknowledgment: The manager (on behalf of the organization) and the customer acknowledge the effort while providing feedback on the level of the expectation met.

Even if the expectations have not been met, it is important to acknowledge the effort of the employee while still noting that the promise to the customer is not fulfilled. That way both the employee and the customer receive the Respect they deserve, while still recognizing (and then taking action) what the customer paid for has not been delivered.

Imagine that Dale is a creative, working on a particularly difficult task for a customer. Dale puts in extraordinary hours and applies every bit of creativity and insight, but it's not enough. The goal has not been achieved. The customer is not satisfied. If Curtis, Dale’s manager, then berates Dale for missing the mark, Respect is destroyed. If the customer simply rails that they are not satisfied, Respect is destroyed.  For sure, Dale has not performed as expected, and the customer still needs to be satisfied. However, if both Curtis and the customer acknowledge Dale’s efforts while noting that the mark has not been met, Respect is maintained and even grown. The likelihood that Dale will dig in, maybe asking for help, is increased, and the chances for success also increase.

This is not a one-way vector. Dale must acknowledge missing the mark and appreciate that the customer needs the work at the level agreed upon. Curtis, as the organization’s representative, must ensure that the work is satisfactory for the customer. If Dale does succeed, Respect is grown, and if not, Respect is destroyed.

How to Balance Respect

Although there are many ways to show Respect, one method that repeatedly succeeds is engaging in an Appreciation Exercise. This exercise is based on the book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

“The conversation is the relationship.”
- Susan Scott

In this exercise, a group of six to eight is best. The group participates in a structured conversation with three parts. In the first, one person very briefly declares the value they bring to the organization. In the second part, each person describes what they appreciate about the person who declared their value. Only a few minutes are needed for each expression of appreciation. In the third part, the person receiving the appreciation replies with, “thank-you,” and nothing else. This is critical. There can be no: “Oh, it wasn’t just me” or “It was a team effort” or “I’m not all that.” Only “thank-you.” Anything else will diminish or even ruin the impact.

If these guidelines are followed, a powerful experience is created. We have yet to do this where there are not lumps in throats and even some tears. This includes hard-bitten, male-oriented, analytically-steeped groups. The reason seems to be that the drive to move on to the next challenge is so great, there is little time to show appreciation. People just don’t know that they are, in fact, appreciated.

“If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” 
- Maya Angelou

This exercise alone will not transform an organization. But it can open up the possibility for transformation. Do the exercise twice a year, really do it, and the level of Respect between individuals and the organization will increase dramatically. Be bold, include your customers, and you will witness a growth in Joy at Work for your organization, and theirs.