Recognizing the skills, contributions, and overall awesomeness of ourselves and others can be remarkably hard to do! Many businesses and individuals have competitive mindsets where recognition of contribution is seen as weak or even personally detrimental. Others feel that talking about their own greatness is morally wrong – the equivalent of shameless self-promotion or uncouth bragging.
In reality, though, acknowledging greatness in others AND ourselves can boost performance, improve mental health, change corporate culture, and even change someone’s day…or life.
In today’s Talk Shop Interview, I’m sitting down with corporate recognition expert Sarah McVanel, owner of Greatness Magnified, to talk about how we can open ourselves up to recognizing greatness in everyday life. We explore talking about our own greatness, the impact of acknowledging others people’s contributions to our daily lives, crafting meaningful employee recognition strategies, and more.
Prefer to read rather than watch? Read the full transcript below the video!
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Lauren Sergy: Hello everybody and welcome to another edition of Talk Shop, the place where you can learn from experts in different industries how to become a more powerful communicator and how to speak your mind more clearly in different areas of your work and life. I am really excited about today’s guest. Here to help you recognize the greatness in yourself and others is the compassionate, the intelligent, the whip-smart, the wonderful Sarah McVanel.
Recognition expert Sarah McVanel helps people and organizations increase their success through the power of recognizing greatness in themselves and others. A highly skilled speaker and coach with a degree in psychology and a master’s in family therapy, Sarah has been making waves in organizational development for over 15 years. Welcome to Talk Shop, Sarah. How are you doing today?
Sarah McVanel:I am so awesome. Thank you for having me. How are you?
Lauren Sergy:Excellent. I am grand. I will fully admit, in the spirit of transparency, I was up all night with my baby, but-
Sarah McVanel:Oh, Lauren. Oh, my God.
Lauren Sergy:… that’s what coffee’s for.
Lauren Sergy:It’s a wonderful thing. I’m pumped to be able to talk to you today because the subject that we’re addressing right now I know is really important for not just you and me, but for basically everyone out there. It’s important to your work, it’s important to your life, it is important to your basic functioning, I think. I’m going to let you tell us about this topic: what is greatness?
Sarah McVanel:Well, greatness, to your point, is within everyone and it’s everywhere, and yet I think we probably have both experienced in our careers how we’ve tried to adjust ourselves, our style, fit into the culture, be somebody that we’re not, and so basically you trample all over our greatness.
My definition of greatness that Michael Walker and I wrote in our books is that it’s your talents, your passions, and your virtues that when you leverage them, it elevates you to your true potential. For some reason, it takes us until about midlife for us to realize that, oh, we’re allowed to be ourselves and that there’s something valuable to that, and that’s okay. Sometimes it takes a while.
When I speak for University groups, which doesn’t very often, I always remind them, “Hey, guys. You get to decide your own destiny and bring your best version of yourself. It’ll make you more likable and employable and, frankly, unstoppable, and us middle-aged folks are just figuring that out. You’ll be a little farther ahead than us.” It’s important because we all need to almost give ourselves permission that even though it’s not necessarily what people always expect of us, your best version of yourself, greatest productivity, greatest focus, greatest contribution to the world will be centered in your unique greatness.
Lauren Sergy:That greatness is going to change throughout our lifetimes, isn’t it? Those university students that you were talking to, they’re not going to be great in the same way that they will be when they reach middle age?
Sarah McVanel:Yeah, absolutely. I mean there’s lots of tools out there that are trait-based tools, personality and so forth, but this is not what we’re talking about. This is a state-based circumstance. Your environment impacts it, how much you focus on developing it and growing it, your life experiences. I mean you and I are both moms. You’re just drinking coffee because you’re a mother today. Well, you probably would already drink coffee. But, anyway, you’re drinking [crosstalk 03:27].
Lauren Sergy:From the pot with a straw.
Sarah McVanel:That’s right, intravenously, because of your motherhood. But those are some of the experiences that we evolve. Whether we choose to or we like to or not, we already are adjusting and evolving. That’s why people say … And I’m actually writing a book about greatness this year, it’s due out later this year, and-
Lauren Sergy:What’s the title?
Sarah McVanel:Oh, it’s a working title. I think it’s probably something like You’re Not That Different, because the key [crosstalk 03:58].
Lauren Sergy:I like that.
Sarah McVanel:Yes, like Olympians and Peter Mansbridge, I’m sure one of your heroes, he’s in it-
Lauren Sergy:Oh, yes.
Sarah McVanel:… Everest climbers, as well as people who have very serious mental health challenges, been incarcerated, and they’ve gone on to do amazing things, philanthropic lead to add value to their community, to achieve their own version of greatness in their life, a key thing that connects all of those people is that at some point they had to decide their own rules, what was defining their success, and it wasn’t necessarily in alignment with what other people told them, whether it’s either live small and then you won’t be disappointed with your life or they had to decide that they weren’t going to necessarily to fill a dream that was somebody else’s dream.
It’s definitely evolving. Greatness is something that we have mastery over because we can choose to lean into it as much as we want, or when we’re not resilient, that’s a great example, when we’re getting a lot of sicknesses or stress and we’re finding it hard to deal with life’s challenges, the first thing I tell people is … I mean besides, of course, if it’s very serious, get medical advice, but, more importantly, though, for most of us, it’s take a look at what are your strengths? What are your passions? What excites you?
If that’s not in alignment with how you’re living your life, whether it’s work, whether it’s personally, whether it’s spiritually and so forth, then there’s probably some wisdom in going back to that place of when you’re at your best to help recalibrate.
Lauren Sergy:Right. It’s interesting how much of an effect, of course, other people have on our interpretation of our own greatness. When you were talking about calibrating and acknowledging your greatness just now, a personal situation that popped into my head right away was that I was doing some work with other business people about creating key differentiators in our business.
The speaker was really, really hammering on us and, “You have to acknowledge what you’re good at. You have to have knowledge what makes you awesome, what makes your process awesome. You have to own it without any shame whatsoever and push that to people so that they know what your key differentiator is.” The speaker looked at me and said, “You are involved with coaching and training in public speaking. What makes you different?” I thought, “Okay. I’m going for broke here.” I said, “My system works.” He looked at me and said-
Sarah McVanel:Oh, attagirl!
Lauren Sergy:Well, but the response, though, was, “Oh, well, that’s very bold.” I thought, “That’s what you were telling us to do.” To what degree do others police our expression of our own greatness?
Sarah McVanel:Oh, that is such a juicy way of putting it.
Lauren Sergy:Yeah. That’s how it felt. I’m like, “You just told me to go for it and now it’s being policed.” What’s up?
Sarah McVanel:Yeah. Here I am, a greatness speaker, and if you ask my son, “Was mom’s greatness showing up this morning?” “Uh, no. Not so much,” right? This is not about being perfect, this is not about being Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, being at the top of that self-actualized pyramid all the time. This is about being connected into when you are at your best and trying to get back there, such as this morning when I wasn’t having my best mother moments.
I think the valuable feedback from people is when somebody’s giving you some feedback when you’re not at your best, when you’re operating outside of your greatness. The people that you really care about, the people who really know you, the people who have your best interest at heart, they’re a great barometer for that. In a way, I think it’s great when people are … I don’t know if they’d call it policing, but certainly if they’re volunteering to help you with that greatness stewardship. But the flip side to that is when people are trying to put you in a box.
My background is human resources and organizational development, and HR, frankly, sometimes we’re guilty of being very transactional in the workplaces. “Here’s your job description and your job fact sheet. You need to do this on Mondays and Tuesdays. Don’t deviate from that. Don’t do too many manager responsibilities because I don’t want to have to give you more money,” and da da da.
What ends up happening is we deflate people. We end up taking away their resourcefulness, that it tones down their engagement, and sometimes to the extent where they’re just showing up on the job retired, which we call presenteeism, or they’re looking elsewhere.
Lauren Sergy:I like that term.
Sarah McVanel:Yeah. It’s not my term. It’s not my term. Somebody else came up with it. I don’t even know who. But making them show up on the job retired in our families, in our communities, in our volunteer positions, as a business owner … There’s lots of folks that … We’re both professional speakers … that will say to me, “Oh, you know what? I just don’t even feel like making sales calls. Oh, I probably should call back the client who hired me last year, and I don’t feel like it.”
My question to them is generally, “Who can help to hold you accountable, who knows that you’re going to land those contracts?” or if they’re not a people-oriented person, if they’re more task-based, “What systems do you have in place that can help you with that?” because that’s more in line with their greatness.
You can find ways in which people can help you stay on track to that, but you don’t have to believe their story about who you are. That’s where I guess when I was mentioning about university students earlier is that one of the interesting things that I hear every time I speak for them, which is different from corporate audiences or association audiences, is, “You mean I actually get to choose? You mean I don’t have to do this degree or I don’t have to become, let’s say, an engineer because my parents told me I could be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer, and I picked that one because I didn’t like blood and because I didn’t like arguing with people so I became an engineer?” It’s a process of elimination.
Lauren Sergy:It’s the safest of the three.
Sarah McVanel:The safest of the three options. Meanwhile, they want to be a teacher or they want to be an actor, heaven forbid. I mean I was in acting, so I can say that. But for those parents that might be like, “Oh.”
Sarah McVanel:Similar in the workplace, is that oftentimes we are expected to fall within the norm. We have a “like me” bias when we evaluate people, when we hire people. What if you’re not like other people? There’s probably some pressure. It’s not even overt necessarily to try to conform more to the way we do things around here or the way we are, and yet you and I both know the best innovation comes from not uniqueness, the difference.
That’s, I think, think the very root of the question that that person was asking you is what makes you different? Don’t ask me that question if you don’t want to hear the answer because my greatness will show up. Then as soon as you trample on it once, I’m probably going to … Unless you’re that determined person, you’re probably going to hold it back because the message is your greatness is your greatness as long as I say is fitting for how I think it’s appropriate for you to express it or for what I most value.
I’m glad that you said that and I’m glad you stood for it. I hope you’re a role model to other people in what they thought about how they’re going to stand for and not live so small in that expression of their business.
Lauren Sergy:Yeah. It was tough to hear that, like to see that response and then to see the pushback, and, oh, well, I suppose. It actually really shoot me for a little while. I went back and thought about that. I was like, “Is that a key differentiator? Is that one of the greatness pieces that I’m willing to accept and acknowledging?” The more I thought about it, the more I thought, “To heck with him. It is.” Then I’m on it. [inaudible 12:03].
Sarah McVanel:Yeah, it’s the same with what we want of our children. Would we want our kids to just get small and just conform, or do we want them to be an expression of their best self at that particular stage in their life? Some recent research out of the positive psychology field called Grit … Dr. Angela Duckworth’s a key leader in this field. You probably read her stuff.
Lauren Sergy:Oh, outstanding work.
Sarah McVanel:It talks about the combination of passion and perseverance allows you … And really it’s an enabler. It’s a great example of an enabler for greatness. You obviously are a very gritty person, which is probably why I adore you so much and why you’re getting great results in your business and for your clients. It’s because you’re persevering, you’re passionate about what you do. Does anybody want to hire a media coach who doesn’t persevere or who isn’t passionate? I don’t. You’re doing your clients a service by you questioning that perhaps whether it’s overt or inovert feedback that you shouldn’t own your greatness, and I’m like, “Get that.”
Lauren Sergy:Well, this is something that I really go on with the people that go to my speaking classes that I coach and train as well. One of the assignments that I give in one of my base level classes is to give a personal introduction where you speak very candidly and very honestly about why you are awesome at what you do, why you rock your job, why you are the person to be talking to us as a speaker.
This assignment, a lot of people have a lot of trouble with because they start inserting all of this self-deprecation. They’re not humblebragging, but they’re trying to give an image of humility when they’re talking about their strength. They’ll say things like, “Well, I might not be the best EMT technician out there, but I am really good at dealing with people when I get there,” or, “I had work really hard to get as good at finances as I am now.” I’m telling them, “No, don’t insert those excuses, those self-deprecations, those personal put-downs in your words because the audience needs to know why you are good so that they can trust what you’re saying, so they can have confidence in you.” What I have for you is why is it so hard for us to do this?
Sarah McVanel:Well, I think, in general, at the risk of overgeneralizing, of course, but I just said in general, so [crosstalk 14:37]-
Lauren Sergy:Yeah. Well.
Sarah McVanel:… general four times, now five, is that, in Canada, we tend to value that group, the collective, as opposed to the individual. I mean not to the same extent as perhaps [inaudible 14:49] Asian cultures and that sort of thing. However, when we contrast ourselves to the US, we take pride in it, and yet really Canadians probably have their humble pants pulled up a little bit too high and humility is … Yes, sometimes we wear it above. Anyway, for those you listening in audio, you wouldn’t see that gesture.
One of the things, I think, that we can use as a valuable tool for folks is the VIA signature character strength survey. Again, this comes out of positive psychology. Anyone can Google it. About 10,000 people, give or take, a day complete it. It’s very evidence-based. It comes out of Penn State University, which is really the birth place of positive psychology. Humility is one of 24 strengths. We don’t all need to rock it.
Now, similarly, if somebody has humility as their strength, that’s going to make them accessible and people will be able to relate to them well. It’s not that it’s necessarily a problem, it’s just it’s not all that that person is.
Yes, we need to balance humility with being able to acknowledge your greatness and get … My background psychology, there are some temperament styles, so personality styles, that will find it more challenging. I’m sure you’ve experienced, as a coach, that there’s multiple ways for people to be able to explore what their greatness is. Sometimes they can directly speak to it, other times they need to ask friends through Facebook or Instagram, “Share a word or two that describes me at my best,” crowdsource the information.
Lauren Sergy:It’s a really useful activity trying to do that. “Just tell me the top three things that when you look at me, you say, ‘Wow! That person is here. She is awesome at that.’ Tell me the top 3 things that come to mind.” I’ve done that a couple of times, and it’s pretty powerful.
Sarah McVanel:Yeah. You could have fun with social media, like somebody else I’d noticed going around at the beginning of the year was, “Put your greatest strength as the first letter of your name.” For L, it might be laughing or whatever. It’s a way to think differently. It takes some of the pressure off of the humility thing because you’re just trying to find something that matches your letter, but it really is a … You do have a great laugh.
Lauren Sergy:Oh, thank you.It’s been referred to as braying before.
Sarah McVanel:Oh, well, I think it’s awesome.
Lauren Sergy:Yeah, that was one of my favorite bits of feedback from a speech. “She’s braying from the stage.” You haven’t heard the worst of it.
Sarah McVanel:It’s [inaudible 17:35]. It’s unique, and that’s what’s awesome about it. That’s the value, and so often that we expect people to regress towards the norm. The status quo is what we’re expecting. We do that in organizations, we do that in social media and so forth. It’s fine, it’s just do you want to live a life that’s fine or do you want to live a life that’s great? Do you want to have a career that’s great? Some people just are fine with fine, and that’s fine.
Lauren Sergy:That’s fine. That’s fine.
Sarah McVanel:I think that’s fine. It’s fine. If you don’t feel that fine is the tempo and the pace in which you wish to live your life, your career, your relationship with your children, whatever is most important to you, then I say it goes back to that place of what are your strength, your passions, your virtues? That is where you will be the best version of yourself in all the arenas in which you play in.
Lauren Sergy:How does your ability to see your own strengths, to see our own strengths affect our ability to see the strengths in others?
Sarah McVanel:Yeah. I so appreciate that you asked that question because oftentimes when people see that I’m a recognition speaker, they’ll assume it’s all about other people. Certainly, that’s a big part of it, but the biggest part of it, however, as your question just pointed out, if we don’t see and acknowledge our own greatness first, it’s really hard to sustain that recognition of others, because it just takes a lot of energy, it takes intention, it takes focus as opposed to you begin to naturally see it in other people when you don’t have to fight to find it in yourself.
It’s kind of that survival mode right. If I’m feeling down on myself, if I’m having to exert so much energy to try to be somebody that I’m not, then that’s where my focus goes as opposed to if you could be centered in yourself, then do your best work. That’s why meaningful work is so important in the workplace, is that work that’s connected to your natural strengths and ability and that’s contributing, then you notice how other people are contributing, doing meaningful work, and making a difference.
That’s where you can often notice the greatness in other people that’s different from you, because when you’re down on yourself or when you just, frankly, don’t think that you’re that exceptional, you may look to see other people who confirm and are similar to you, and that’s what you most value. Whereas, when you’re confident in who you are and you believe that you can be an expression of your best version of yourself, you can see that there’s so many other shades of greatness and see that.
Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, one of many founders of this important field, frankly, probably the only area of psychology that kept me going in my four-year undergrad because the rest of it was very negative, it seemed, [inaudible 20:28] graphs and numbers. I’ve repressed all stuff, so I’m not going to bring it back up.
One of the key things that he said was if there’s one thing that people need more than to be loved, it’s to be understood. At first, I thought, “Oh, that doesn’t fit for me. I think everybody needs love.” He’s not saying people don’t need love, it’s just you don’t need love from everybody. But you do need to be understood in all areas of the world.
You don’t expect to probably go to work to be loved. You really don’t expect to go to the gym and be loved. But if all of a sudden the personal trainer or your boss or your neighbor is criticizing you and they just don’t get you, that’s exhausting. That’s constant barrage of how you’re not good enough or you should be different in the world. But you can sustain a pretty happy, healthy life if you had just a few people who love you. Some people like Oprah have millions, but, anyway, that’s [crosstalk 21:25].
Lauren Sergy:But we can’t all be Miss O.
Sarah McVanel:We can’t all be Miss O.
Lauren Sergy:But we can still spread the love, damn it. We can still spread the love.
Sarah McVanel:We can. We can.
Lauren Sergy:How important is acknowledging greatness in other people? Sorry, I’m going to rephrase that. What role does acknowledging greatness in other people … And I loved how you said shades of greatness, because sometimes I think that greatness, we interpret that as being something huge instead of seeing all of the little things that contribute to the greatness. But what role does acknowledging that in other people have on the health of an organization?
Sarah McVanel:Well, I mean a great example of that, and I do this all the time to the point where my teenagers are actually starting to call me cringy because it’s no longer adorable anymore. But, anyway, that’s okay because they actually [crosstalk 22:16].
Lauren Sergy:Got to love the honesty of teenagers, eh?
Sarah McVanel:Yeah, that’s right. They think everything I do is cringy now anyway, so it’s okay. But I keep little squishy frogs and frog terms in my purse. About two summers ago, we were in Costco. My daughter had found a snow suit she liked, but she’s an Amazon like her mother, very long arms and everything. We had to find the largest size, couldn’t find it.
We asked the lady to come over and to help us, who’s folding t-shirts, “Could you come over and help us?” But she looked up at us with this look on her face, like, “You know this is not Nordstrom’s, right? I’m not your personal shopper. This is Costco,” but she came over and-
Lauren Sergy:Not my job description.
Sarah McVanel:Not my job description. She came over, she was looking, and she found it. She gave it to my daughter and she went back to fold t-shirts. My daughter went into my purse, grabbed one of these little squishy frogs. We went back over to her and we said, “Sorry to bother you, but we just wanted to FROG you.” I’m sure that you all the time say those words to people.
Lauren Sergy:Oh, yes. Why, every day.
Sarah McVanel:Every day. Exactly. It generally gets quite a surprising reaction. Either people laugh or they get afraid. She looked like she was going to call security, but, fortunately, she didn’t because we said very quickly, “Because FROG stands for forever recognize other’s greatness.” Clearly, you want to make sure everybody leaves with exactly what they want them to mean. She put out her hands so Simone could put the little frog in her hand. She looked up at Simone with tears in her eyes and then to me and to her frog, and then to Simone and to me. Then I get choked up. Then my daughter’s looking at me and then her and thinking, “Oh, my gosh. Grownups are so weird.”
But I explained to my daughter in the car the reason why she had that reaction is because most of the time grownups are being told what they’re not doing well, or they’re thinking of all the things they haven’t done or that they have to do or how they’re a disappointment to themselves, to other people, to the banker who needs more money or whatever, and we don’t often think in terms of where our greatness is. We took a moment out to share with that person who, I think, was having a bad day, and this was no slight on Costco, because most of the people in that store are very happy and jolly, but we all-
Lauren Sergy:Bad days happen for many reasons, not just work.
Sarah McVanel:Exactly. I said to my daughter … It was a teachable moment. I said, “By a small gesture that you just organically thought that that would be something nice to do and I just happened to have the words that just flowed in that were right for her to hear in that moment. Who knows what kind of impact we made on her life?” Because there was a reason why she got teary. There is a reason why she’s been having a bad day or maybe a bad month or maybe a bad year.
We ran into her actually a couple of months later. She was at the checkout. I didn’t even remember her. I hope she doesn’t listen to this podcast because she might feel badly. Actually, I hope she is listening to it because then she’ll hear how awesome she is. Everybody should listen to your podcast.
She looked up from her job that she was doing and she had a big smile on her face. She said, “Oh, I look at my frog every day.” I said, “That’s great.” It just clicked right in that moment who she was. She said, “I have to tell you I had been folding t-shirts thinking that I should probably leave my job because three people had yelled at me in the last hour about how I couldn’t help them and what good am I. I thought, ‘Well, if I’m not good at my job, then I should probably leave and go some place else.’
But when your daughter gave me that frog and then you said what you said, that was exactly why I got into retail is I do want people to leave with what they want and they need and make their day a little easier. Now every day before I leave the house, as I put on my watch and I unplug my phone, I look at my little squishy frog and I say to my frog that sits on top of my mirror when I check my hair before I leave the house, ‘You’re going to go to work and you’re going to do the best job you can to make sure everybody leaves with exactly what they want and they need,’ and I leave the house. I leave with that mentality.”
She said, “Very rarely do people yell at me. If they do, I just go, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry that you feel that way.'” She said, “It has never bothered me since because I know that people see even when I’m not having a good day, I know I can still be the best version of myself.”
I said afterwards, I’m like, “See? That’s why we do this,” because you can impact people, and you have no idea what kind of impact you’re going to make on them. Everybody should say to somebody at some point in their life, “I’d like to FROG you,” just to see the reaction. But even if it’s a squishy frog or saying those words, it’s spontaneously recognizing somebody when they needed or wanted. Who knows what kind of impact it’s going to have? That’s just one of countless stories I could share with you, but just do it. What’s the harm?
Lauren Sergy:It also relates back to, once again, that term that you used before that, those shades of greatness. I don’t know about you, I do see this within bits of intergenerational conflict within the workplace … I know that sounds like a very technical term, but it’s the best description of it … When you have different cohorts of workers, each who have their very own specific definition of what greatness is, and then they get down on other cohorts of workers for not being that or for not demonstrating values in the same way that they would demonstrate it.
I see this most often between millennials and boomers and, to a degree, gen Xers as well. The generations get down on each other for this. Do you have any words of wisdom in terms of dealing with that in the workplace? It drives me nuts. It really does. Yes, I am an older millennial, but that doesn’t mean entitled and don’t think that I have to work hard. Yes, that person is a boomer, but it doesn’t mean that they’re a complete snob who assumes that nothing in life comes for free or whatever, right?
Sarah McVanel:Lauren, I’ll be really candid with you and all the people listening and watching this-
Lauren Sergy:My brain is like, poof!
Sarah McVanel:… that what drives me a bit bananas about all of this is that we have fabricated this overemphasis on the different generations, that originally this intergenerational dialogue happened in a more demographic demography studying consumer behaviors and trends. Then somehow us HR folks, speakers, trainers, thought, “Oh, this would be a really good hook that we get to monetize this.” Then now it’s at every HR conference, it’s somewhere on the program-
Lauren Sergy:Sell the conflict. It gets clicks.
Sarah McVanel:Yeah, that’s right. Exactly.
Lauren Sergy:It gets butts in seats, but it’s not helpful.
Sarah McVanel:It’s not. One of the things that I really emphasize with my clients, with conference planners, anyone who chooses to look at it is perhaps the conversation is how are we similar? How does greatness exist within all of us and how could we recognize everyone? Because I’ll tell you my research, which is based on working with a Canadian engagement survey company, we looked at a quarter of a million engagement survey data points, so hundreds of organizations. We looked at the high-performing organizations, so the highest satisfaction with recognition specifically, and lowest to see were we seeing at the front line the same thing as what the data is going to tell us? To validate that we’re seeing recognition is such a game-changer in organizations.
We found that there were a number … And if you’d like to know what those variables are, I’d be happy to share it. But when we further looked at the nuances of how people want to be recognized, that there were three things. Number one, tell me thank you. Number two, give me specific personal words of acknowledgement. Tell me exactly why. Number three, write me a thank you note or card or just a scrap piece of paper, a post-it note would be fine even.
Lauren Sergy:Pretty simple stuff.
Sarah McVanel:Simple stuff. It’s not generational. It’s sex-based, like gender-based. There may be some degree of cultural differences. But over 88% or more people said that they wanted those three forms of recognition. Well, that basically spreads all of the generations.
What I like to say to people is focus on the shared humanity first and that if there’s some differences that to the point where it’s truly being disruptive, I would look at rule out other variables that are probably more likely, like is our roles clear? Is there visible presence of leadership and they’re tuned in to what’s going on? Do you have a shared belief system around what teamwork and collaboration looks like?
I think once you start to work on some of those things that, from a group systems theory perspective, those were the things throughout time that have always been the greatest sources of conflict, that and a few others, way more so than generations. The generational discourse is because it’s sexy, it’s easy to talk about, it’s fun to make fun of millennials walking around in their thongs with all their expectations and all their trophies and how funny is that, and then the boomers.
You know what? The boomers were disruptive when they joined the workforce, too, because they were excited. Well, do you think that the veterans at that time and any other generation thought they were frustrated with them? Of course. Anybody new to a workplace and to their careers is going to be excited, is going to be full of ideas, is going to want to disrupt the status quo.
In my opinion, it’s not in the millennial conversation against other generations. What it is is what is standing in the way of people performing at their best, focus on that? As soon as we attribute it to generations, it’s pointing fingers and it’s blaming. Nobody can do anything about their gender, about their sexual orientation, about their generation, so why focus on things you can’t change?
Here’s the last thing I’ll say about it, then I’ll stop because I’m a bit of soapbox about this, is that we would not be having conference presentations and conversations at leadership forums in our organizations about the problem with men versus women. We’re having building conversations about how do we elevate the status of women, but most of my clients who I do work for around women’s conferences, they bring the men into the room, too, and it’s not exclusionary. In fact, I’ve had clients say, “There is no way that we will ever host a women’s conference and not have men invited or present. Even if the room is too small, we will cram people in.”
We never have an exclusionary finger-pointing conversation, so why is it okay that we’re blaming the millennials? Why is it okay that we’re pointing the fingers a different generations? I just think it’s completely disruptive in a bad way, not controversial like, “Let’s get [crosstalk 33:30].”
Lauren Sergy:”Let’s disrupt so we can innovate.” It’s not like that at all.
Sarah McVanel:Right, not like that. It does the opposite. It shuts people down because it labels as opposed to focuses on greatness, which is in all of us.
Lauren Sergy:Yeah. That was a great soapbox, by the way. I love it. I love it.
Sarah McVanel:Good, good.
Lauren Sergy:We’re coaching now. Yeah. Bring the energy. Let’s bring it.
Sarah McVanel:Okay. I’ll [inaudible 33:52] up in a bit.
Lauren Sergy:You had mentioned three really simple, basic ways that people want and have specifically expressed as things they want to see in order to be recognized. Now you’ve mentioned before FROG, the forever recognizing other’s greatness, what is that system and how can organizations use that or another system to create this really meaningful, natural way of recognizing their employees’ greatnesses?
Sarah McVanel:Well, I guess there’s two ways I would say that people could do that. The number one we touched on already, which is start at individuals. Do people see the greatness within themselves? Are they seeing the greatness interpersonally? Are they seeing the greatness in a team context and interdepartmentally? Is it on an organizational level? That would be one thing.
The second piece of it is if you’re trying to do it at an organizational level, most of the clients that I work with, because I do some consulting work, including with multinational companies that are in various multicultural, various languages, and very complex management systems, what we try to do is we try to have a balance of both standardized common ways that the organization and the people in it have told us they most want in value recognition, but then there’s also a local component as well.
That’s what I would highly recommend to folks. If they’re curious and they want to understand this a little bit better, then they’re welcome to connect with me. Greatnessmagnified.com is my website, and so they can contact me through that.
In a nutshell, that’s the first level, because if people don’t see the greatness within, their self-worth is being squashed, or at a team level or interdepartmentally there’s tension there, I mean you’ve got to clean those things up. Recognition, the great thing about it is it’s part of the status that I was mentioning to you, is one of the variables of having a high recognition culture is it builds trust. Once you have trust, then you can start to have change, you can start to experiment, dabble with things, because people are willing to take chances in an environment with trust, even in environments of change as long as there’s trust.
Then when it comes to a systems approach, I’ll tell you FROG is my trademark brand. I totally believe in it. I 100% know that it works, and some organizations have brought in the actual brand to do that standardized, “Here’s the organizational hook is FROG.” Then how you choose to apply it at a local level is up to you, because FROG doesn’t work for everybody, right?
Sarah McVanel:An organization that I’ve been working with, who is a member of my FROG portal, so a membership-based site, it worked really, really well for nine out of their 11 departments. Then two of their departments felt that it … One felt it was juvenile and the other one just didn’t get it, so they developed their own thing.
Lauren Sergy:Oh, ouch.
Sarah McVanel:Totally fine. I know. That’s okay.
Lauren Sergy:Yeah. But not everything works for everyone. It’s the same thing with helping people speak. You have to try different techniques for every person. Sorry to cut in there.
Sarah McVanel:No, no, not at all.
Lauren Sergy: That was me soapboxing for a minute.
Sarah McVanel:Yeah, and I totally agree with you. I’m glad that you said that because … And that’s part of why I don’t have a canned system. It would be really easy to make a lot of money doing that, but I just don’t believe it’s right because it flies in the face of what greatness is all about.
Every person has a unique dynamic of greatness, a greatness that’s evolving every day all the time. Of course, organizational culture is the same thing. Respecting what your organizational cultures, what your greatness is as a culture, what the greatness is at each branch of it, whatever that looks like, whether it’s by country or by division or by department, and that there’s a balance of you’ve got a strong foundation that we recognize people in the basic ways: the thank yous, the acknowledgements, personal, specific acknowledgements, having some form of written and/or digital recognition.
I encourage people to find ways that they can make it expansive. Bring it to Twittersphere, bring it to your intranet. You’ll find ways that you can make it really accessible for people and unencumbered. Sometimes when I go and I do work with organizations, they have recognition programs already, but they’re so complicated. It requires people to fill stock and replenish cards. I’m like, “Oh.”
Lauren Sergy: If it’s complicated, people aren’t going to do it. It’s going to fall by the wayside if it’s complex.
Sarah McVanel:People are too busy. I mean it sounds cliché to say, but any time there’s a barrier to being able to sustain something, then you know you don’t have a viable system. Really, that’s the other reason, I think, why, from a FROG system perspective, you need to be able to have the both end approach.
Yes, we can have some common language to the value of recognition, whether that’s FROG or something else, and that then you can curate that as to how that’s going to manifest and, culturally, how that’s going to fit in your own microcosm, your own little mini culture.
Lauren Sergy:Yeah. We’re going to close it down on that note, Sarah, because that’s such a solid way to close it down. I really do encourage everyone out there who’s watching this, if you’re looking at incorporating more of this acknowledgement of greatness, of building yourself and others up so that you can move forward with whatever goals you and your organization have, please do check out the FROG member portal system.
There’s no affiliate here. I’m pushing it because I’ve had a look at Sarah’s work, and it really is outstanding. It’s a great way to start making the recognition of greatness part of your personal practice and part of your organizational practice, because I think that it’s that practice aspect of it. It’s something you do regularly. That’s what really, really makes it powerful. Sarah, I know that you mentioned your website already, but can you tell us about it one more time-
Lauren Sergy:… so that we know how we can find FROG and how we can find more about you and ways to tap into your wisdom?
Sarah McVanel:No problem. Greatnessmagnified.com. You probably can find lots of articles. I know you can find lots of articles online that I’ve written or co-authored. The talk about the business case for recognition, sometimes people think it’s fluffy stuff, and I think some of those articles are why recognition is not fluffy stuff, looking at how it builds trust, increases innovation and continuous improvement cultures, improves intention to stay, trust in leadership and satisfaction with leadership and even satisfaction with the organizations.
I would encourage people even just to do a search for the specific business issue that you’re having. Whether it’s me or whether it’s somebody else who’s writing about that in that space, I’m confident that you’ll find recognition strategies that fit for your organization to deal with some of the things that you’re dealing with.
Sarah McVanel:Greatnessmagnified.com or just a Google search.
Lauren Sergy:Yeah. Outstanding. We’ll, of course, pop the link down in the description below to your website. We’ll also have some links down there for various articles like the business case articles. We’ll throw in some links for that as well so you will be able to tap into Sarah. For everyone watching and listening today, go there and FROG someone. It feels great. You don’t know how it’s going to change their life. It’s a really great thing. Go and FROG someone today. It sounds a little dirty.
Sarah McVanel:If you just wanted a chuckle, see their reaction when you say, “I want to FROG … ” Yeah.
Lauren Sergy:Thank you so much, Sarah. Thank you to everyone out there watching and listening. We’ll see you again on the next Talk Shop.
Sarah McVanel:Thank you.
Lauren Sergy: Bye bye.