I had a really strange morning yesterday while out on a quick shopping trip. I only needed milk and bread and you would have thought that it wasn’t a difficult assignment. Well, you would have been wrong. The problem was that I was invisible.

First I tried the bread shop, where my cloak of invisibility was so strong, that the girl simply could not see me; she served the customers to the left of me, the customers to the right of me and even the one standing behind me! It was pretty obvious, that for some unique reason she simply could not see me.

So, feeling a trifle ruffled, I went up the road and into the supermarket – no chance of being invisible here I thought. It was merely necessary to pick up a loaf of bread from the stand, grab a bottle of milk, dash through the self-serve section and away we go. It was here that I ran into Murphy … that’s right, the one with the law. The stand was completely empty of that particular whole grain loaf that I insist on. So I tried to approach a staff member to see if there was going to be a refill, and he walked away without a second look. I tried to hail another employee, who simply turned on his heel and disappeared in the opposite direction.

By now I was seriously worried. Was there something about my appearance that triggered this reaction? I peered at myself in the mirror above the fishmongers – there didn’t seem to be any difference in the way I looked. Mousy brown hair, studious glasses, an air of desperation … no everything was as it normally was. So why was I wrapped up in this cloak of invisibility?

Feeling strangely alien in the world around me, I grabbed a loaf of bread of indeterminate type and a carton of milk and, desperate to get home and visible again, I lined up at the self-serve machines. Here again, the dark cloak of night descended to cover me from the sight of my fellow shoppers. The lady behind me, (probably normally a sweet, unassuming lady) barged passed me and started swiping her merchandise with deadly intensity. Eventually, with single minded determination and a lack of consideration that my parents would have been appalled at, I managed to get through and get home. The husband was reading in his chair and ignored me; at which point I threw the loaf of bread at him and went for a shower.

Later that night I got back into my research; my topic tonight was appreciation. A real leader is one that shows appreciation for the efforts and loyalty of their staff. We all like to have our little successes recognised and I can recall the burst of pride I felt, when something I had done was favourably mentioned at a planning meeting during my army career. A little stroking of our ego is guaranteed to make us feel good; and feeling good about what we do helps us to reach out to achieve more.

Conversely, having our achievement go unrecognised makes us feel unappreciated. We can feel as I did, when covered by that cloak of invisibility. Doesn’t anybody even know that I am really here? If my efforts are not acknowledged, what chance will there by of me trying harder next time? If you are like me … then not much.

Recognition of a person’s efforts is essential in business; it improves motivation, it creates a supportive ambience within the company and it encourages continuous improvement. And while a company is relatively small, it is easy to give the personal and direct supportive recognition which is beneficial. But as the company grows it become more difficult to maintain that personal connection; executives get further and further away and people begin to feel a little invisible.

No one listens to us” is a common complaint I hear when making an assessment of a company’s communication systems. “Even if we do make recommendations, they never get acted upon, or even commented on!” is another indication that while the staff are very visible on the ground, they are becoming more and more invisible to the leaders.

But there are many levels of leaders, and leaders can take the initiative at any level. But don’t wait until your staff have actually performed outstandingly before you give them appreciation and recognition, or you may never get round to it. For positive reinforcement to work, it needs to be immediate and relevant. It should be personal and actually meant. Co-workers can start supportive action by commenting positively on fellow workers successes. And they don’t have to be world shattering in their effectiveness. “Thanks for bringing in the milk today” shows that their thoughtfulness had been noticed and appreciated. Sometimes that is all it takes for someone to feel visible again.

I worry about the staff in the bread shop and the supermarket. I think that they themselves probably felt invisible to their leaders; so they had difficulty in seeing some of their customers. So if you don’t want your staff to fall into the same trap, make sure that you remove their cloaks of invisibility first. Recognise them for their achievements, their thoughtfulness, their care for your business; and I am sure that they will never overlook a desperate customer again.

Michele@ Trischel

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