The Incredible Power of the Uncommon and Unexpected

By on January 10, 2018
Incredible Power of the Uncommon and Unexpected

The Office of the Commanding General of Keesler AFB called and asked that I report immediately to the general. With a fair degree of trepidation I walked to base headquarters, wondering what I had done wrong because as a squadron adjutant I’d never previously had this happen. I reported to the general and waited for some not so good news. Here’s what he said, “Lt. Friesen, yesterday you led your squadron in the best retreat ceremony I’ve seen in years. Great work.

Years later, I had a similar experience when the CEO of a company I’d just gone to work for came into my office and said these words, “George, I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad you’re on our team and hope you have a great career with our company.

Both of these experiences had a profound impact on my performance. They drove higher levels of motivation, confidence, and, most importantly, my sense of belonging to the organization.

So why did these simple experiences have such an impact on my performance? To a degree, one could argue, it was because they involved an Air Force Major General and the CEO of a corporation. While it was nice to get these kinds of messages from the organization’s chief honchos, I think this factor was just a minor part of the power equation.

What made these experiences so powerful is that they were totally unexpected and also involved direct contact with the individuals delivering the feedback.

Unexpected. Personal. These are the key drivers of experiences in the work place that have a profound impact on performance.

Individuals at all levels of the organization can provide these kinds of powerful experiences for their fellow employees. Here are just a couple of examples of what you can do, whatever your position in the organization.

  • If you’re a plant manager, ask your frontline supervisors to identify workers who are doing an outstanding job along with short descriptions of what they’re doing that’s outstanding. Go to the line and say to them, “I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate the work you’re doing. You’re a great contributor to our company.” I can guarantee that they’ll be surprised and that this experience will have a very powerful impact on their performance. (Note: If your supervisors have a hard time giving you descriptions of outstanding workers and the work they’re doing, that’s another issue that needs to be addressed immediately. They need to be reminded that their primary responsibility is to carefully observe the performance of the people they’re supervising.)
  • If you’re a manager, during a meeting with your supervisors tell them about outstanding work done by one of their peers and say to her or him, “Our team really appreciates your great work. It means a lot to us.
  • If you’re a supervisor, say to your manager, “I really enjoy being on your team and think you’re doing a great job leading our group.” Then watch for a big smile and realize that you’ve done something that will have a major impact on your manager’s performance.
  • If you’re a line worker, say to your supervisor, “We really like the way you do things to take the struggle out of our work. It means a lot to us.
  • If you’re a salesperson, call one of your customers and say to them, “Just wanted to let you know that we really value the opportunities we had to serve you. And one of the most enjoyable parts of our day is hearing about your successes.
  • If you’re a purchasing manager, call one of your suppliers and say, “We were talking about your company this morning and the very important role you play in our success. Thank you so much for the great work you’re doing in helping us succeed. It’s greatly appreciated.

It needs to be said, that these statements have believed if they are to be credible. All of us can read insincerity in the minute and it destroys the impact of any message.

Finally, I suspect that some of you are saying to yourself, “These comments sound unnatural.” Yes, they do. They sound that way because they’re so uncommon. And this is precisely why they’re so powerful.

So let 2018 be the year when you put to work the great power of the uncommon and unexpected. You’ll be amazed at its impact.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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