Don: [00:00:00] Each one of your employees wakes up every morning in search of validation. We rarely get enough at home and we rarely get enough at work. One thing managers can know about all of their direct reports, they’re all in a state of chronic validation deprivation.
Don: [00:00:18] My name is Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don: [00:00:27] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging, workplace environments where employees feel safe recognized and validated.
Don: [00:00:40] Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Kelly: [00:01:10] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.
Kelly: [00:01:16] As always we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO, Don Rheem.
Kelly: [00:01:22] Welcome Don, and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Don: [00:01:25] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.
Kelly: [00:01:27] As we heard at the top of today’s episode this week’s focus is on the importance of validation.
Kelly: [00:01:32] Making sure your employees feel validated is one of the quickest ways leaders can increase engagement in the workplace.
Kelly: [00:01:39] Our E3 survey data reveals that survey respondents consistently rank our questions about validation and there’s a number of them. They’re on average the lowest scores in our survey. Across the board, employees say leaders are not taking time each week to acknowledge them for work well done. Nor, do they feel like they’re given special recognition if they consistently do better than expected. How does this data help us shed light on the importance of validation and its impact in the workplace?
Don: [00:02:07] There are a couple of things. This is the first of what I consider to be a series of three podcasts. This one’s on validation, the next one will be on recognition and the third is on feedback.
Don: [00:02:16] This is foundational and that’s why validation comes first. And the reason it’s important is because, as human beings, we’re hardwired with curiosity about how others perceive our value.
Don: [00:02:27] We are at our core herd animals and we’re born with this subconscious need and desire to be in a group where our chances of success are considered significantly higher, than if we’re isolated and alone.
Don: [00:02:39] As a result of this we have this hardwired need to know. And, I always tell managers each one of your employees wakes up every morning in search of validation. We rarely get enough at home and we rarely get enough at work.
Don: [00:02:51] One thing managers can know about all of their direct reports, they’re all in a state of chronic validation deprivation. It’s a wonderful place to at work, to provide that validation that people are hardwired to need.
Don: [00:03:04] The question that the brain is asking subconsciously is something like, you know, am I valued by the group? Am I important? Do they see how I am contributing?
Don: [00:03:11] Now, great managers want to understand this and start to provide this need. We’ve talked about emotional velcro. This is one of the places to provide it. When employees get validation at work more so than they do anywhere else in life, that’s compelling. And, that’s one of the reasons we want to go to work.
Kelly: [00:03:29] Why is there such a deficit here?
Kelly: [00:03:30] It seems like such a simple act, either at home or at work, but obviously we’re focusing on work now. It seems like such a simple act to validate others and yet these questions always get ranked lowest in our 28 question survey.
Kelly: [00:03:44] It seems like the most simple thing a leader can do in an organization is validate their employees, and yet, it’s clearly not happening.
Don: [00:03:52] This is one of the challenges I think of how work has been framed for decades, actually for about 250 years, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Don: [00:04:01] Work is a place you came to work. And it wasn’t considered social. It was just where you came to work, head down, get it done. And that mindset that sort of structure, that frame around work was effective when jobs were scarce because people could come and work in that environment and they were so focused just on having the job and getting the paycheck, that they could endure that.
Don: [00:04:24] But now life’s different. We’ve talked about the labor crisis the talent scarcity. We need to look for these small but powerful ways to establish a connection with our employees.
Don: [00:04:36] Now this is how we find validation, recognition and feedback differently. The specific role of validation, they’re just simple statements made in acknowledgment of an individual’s presence and intrinsic value as a human being.
Don: [00:04:49] This is why we say validation is unconditional. We validate employees not for what they’ve done for us. We’ll talk about that and recognition. This is about simply recognizing someone when they’re in your presence.
Kelly: [00:05:01] I think that’s a really important statement and that’s another reason in my opinion that we have such a deficit of validation.
Kelly: [00:05:08] Leaders are focused on productivity and numbers and to-do lists and meetings and agendas. They’re not taught to be leaders who are attuned to the needs of the limbic system in a way that if they were, validation would go up because it’s so easy, it’s free and it has such an impact on employees.
Kelly: [00:05:29] They’re not taught that from the get-go and that’s what we’re trying to introduce, here, is how does validation impact an employee’s mindset in the workplace?
Kelly: [00:05:37] There is a feeling of safety in the workplace, that their meaning and purpose in the workplace. There’s so many things their validation can connect to. And if leaders don’t understand that it’s natural that there’s going to be a deficit because they’re focused on output rather than what they’re putting into their employees.
Don: [00:05:54] You mentioned the limbic system and this is the part of the brain that processes emotion. It has control precedents in the brain. It’s the epicenter of fight, flight or freeze. And so, it’s really important I believe for managers to make this connection.
Don: [00:06:09] The limbic system has control precedence, it determines virtually everything we do during the day. And, so as we’ve come to understand and thank goodness for the field of neuroscience and especially social neuroscience, has given us some great insights on what the limbic system is looking for that it considers safety, that is, what it would move toward.
Don: [00:06:30] And, the limbic system knows because we’re herd animals, that if we’re in a group our chances of success and survival go way, way up. The limbic system is constantly vigilant. On, do I have people around me that know me and value me?
Don: [00:06:45] Because if the limbic system senses that then it knows it’s safe, that is, it’s not going to get fired, it’s not going to be ejected by the group. So, this is incredibly important. And, managers said, look this is work and that sounds like soft stuff but there is nothing more germane to getting work done well in an organization than the limbic system not feeling triggered for threat.
Don: [00:07:09] And, we refer to this as creating a safe haven at work not a coddling zone. But a place where people can come to work with as few potentials for blindsides or unanticipated negatives that throw the limbic system off. And this is important because when the limbic system does trigger threat, tt starts hijacking metabolic resources from the rest of the brain.
Don: [00:07:31] Which means that employees, everything from their peripheral vision collapses, their IQ drops, they’re less attuned to the needs of people around them, they’re less likely to do quality work.
Don: [00:07:40] There is nothing more fundamental to the human experience than being in a group of people that value you.
Don: [00:07:47] And, so why shouldn’t we, as managers and leaders, make that sense of value explicit in a hello, good morning, good to see you, how was your weekend, how’s the family?
Don: [00:07:59] All of these are simple statements acknowledging the value of the person outside of the work that they do.
Don: [00:08:06] You know, one of the questions that we ask in our survey is, do I feel valued for more than the work I produce? And when that score is low, we know that in general overall engagement scores are also low for that manager or leader.
Don: [00:08:20] We want to be seen and valued as people, not cogs in a machine. We are not human capital. We’re human beings. And, human beings are hardwired to be seen and valued. And work may be the place where we get the most of it when it’s done well.
Kelly: [00:08:35] So we bring our whole selves to work. We want to be valued for our whole selves when at work. What are some of the key markers of validation? What does a leader need to do to better validate? Because we’re not doing it right now.
Kelly: [00:08:48] What do they need to do to better validate each of their employees?
Don: [00:08:51] Well, there’s something I heard recently a number of companies are using. There’s no empirical evidence or studies on this that I’ve seen. But they have what’s called, the rule of 10 and 5.
Don: [00:09:03] If you’re within 10 feet of an employee you need to acknowledge their presence. It could be a smile, a nod, a wave, a thumbs up or something. You acknowledge that they’re there.
Don: [00:09:13] If they’re within five feet of you, you actually need to utter something like, hello, good to see you, how are you today?
Don: [00:09:21] And, I did have one CEO at a firm in Los Angeles, who said, well, wait a minute Don, what if I’ve said hello to them in the morning, and then I pass them in the hall that afternoon. Am I supposed to say hello again? I mean I already did it earlier.
Kelly: [00:09:36] Hey, you’ve done it once you don’t ever have to do it again.
Don: [00:09:37] Once a day is all I need. And, I said, well, you might change it out if it’s good morning and early in the day and then it might be how is your lunch, how’s the day going?
Don: [00:09:48] I think I’ve talked about this before but it’s sad when we see in some of the open-ended questions, the answers we read from employees.
Don: [00:09:55] One employee said, I walked by my manager two or three times a day in the hallway, the breakroom, somewhere, and she never says or seems to notice me. And then they ask sort of sadly, why am I so invisible?
Don: [00:10:06] If employees feel invisible at work, the emotional velcro gets ripped apart. No one wants to go somewhere where they feel invisible. We want to be seen and noticed and valued, again because we are hardwired as herd animals.
Kelly: [00:10:22] This comes really naturally to some leaders. Some leaders would never have to ask you the question of, should I respond to them again in the afternoon if I’ve already talked to them in the morning? They’re just inherently relational people who are great at connecting with others, who are great at building relationships.
Kelly: [00:10:39] But this is a struggle for a lot of leaders to try and do this validation in a way that feels genuine, feels authentic, that builds relationships over time that are continuously growing so you’re not always asking the exact same one question, because you can’t, you don’t know how to dig deeper into that employee’s life.
Kelly: [00:10:57] So what do we say to the leaders that this does not come naturally to?
Don: [00:11:01] Well, it’s true and I think it’s legitimate why it isn’t. It wasn’t done for them. So their entire work life was bereft of validation. And so they just literally don’t have the muscle memory of doing it.
Don: [00:11:13] So, what we tell managers is it’s just a simple reflection of the individual’s value. All managers have to do is slow down, lean in, and authentically care, check in and listen and respond from the heart.
Don: [00:11:25] And some of the things that they should be focused on would be tone of voice, their facial expressions. Do they have direct eye contact with the employee when they did it?
Don: [00:11:33] In the world of active listening, we talked about you’re not listening if you’re not present with the person. Are you present with the individual in that moment when you’re with them?
Don: [00:11:41] And all of these contribute to effective validation. And it needs to be done regularly. When we have our boot camp for managers on employee engagement we tell them validation needs to be done daily. This is something that needs to be a regular part of our experience.
Kelly: [00:11:57] It’s going to feel a little bit different if it’s a CEO validating one of 150 or 500 employees than it is if it is a team leader validating one of their direct reports because the depth of relationship is a lot stronger in a team leader’s experience.
Kelly: [00:12:15] So, for the CEOs out there who are passing an employee in the hallway they may not know their name, they may not know exactly what they do on a day-to-day basis, but validating them in passing, helps that employee feel more connected to the organization, more seen, more valued by the person at the top.
Kelly: [00:12:33] Which last week we talked about one of the ways that you connect in an organization around meaning and purpose, is with your leader of with the organization. And, there’s no higher leader to connect with than the CEO of the organization. So, it’s so important for the senior-level leaders in an organization to be a place that offer validation on a regular basis regardless of whether or not they know what that employee does every day.
Don: [00:12:57] I was walking down the hall in an organization I worked in early in my career, and I think it was a senior vice president whom I’d never met walked past me. It was just the two of us passing in a hallway. And, he passed me and then I heard him say, hold on a minute. And I stopped and turned around he said, I don’t think we’ve met. And he extended his hand. He said, tell me what you do. Tell me your name and what you do here. And then he said, oh yes, I heard about you. We’re very excited to have you here.
Don: [00:13:23] I went home and I told my wife, I mean, I was just so…
Kelly: [00:13:26] You know forget that kind of interaction.
Don: [00:13:27] You don’t because there was something also about it that he had passed me. I was just thinking quickly I should have introduced myself. What should I, and then boom he did this and what looked like sort of a passing without being noticed. I went from being invisible to quite visible. Now whether he actually heard about me or not, I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.
Kelly: [00:13:48] It made you feel good.
Don: [00:13:49] It made me feel good and I never forgot that individual and thought much more highly of that person. And there’s something else about that experience I wanted to share with you, even to get your comment on this, when he would say things to me after that point because it was congruent, it felt authentic.
Kelly: [00:14:06] Absolutely.
Don: [00:14:07] And I trusted it more.
Kelly: [00:14:08] When you step out to make the first move, to make somebody else, especially as a leader, when you make somebody else feel like a person, like somebody who is seen, like somebody who’s valued, just in the simple way that this leader did. He could have been and probably was very busy on his way to a meeting had his own agendas in mind, but took the time to stop, turn around and come back to talk to you.
Kelly: [00:14:30] That’s a powerful marker of a really strong leader, somebody who’s going to make each individual feel welcomed and valued in the community. That sticks with you and you’re right that authenticity that follows with every subsequent interaction creates a stronger and stronger bond, which is what’s gonna keep you more engaged in the organization and keep you invested in the organization for the long term.
Don: [00:14:53] This need to be authentic is a great metric for leaders. So this is why I mentioned things like direct eye contact. If you’re going to validate someone look at them directly in the eye be present with them. You can’t throw a validation over your show as you’re walking away and expect it to land effectively and authentically.
Don: [00:15:13] So be present with people. When leaders do this it’s free and it does take more time. Great leaders understand that the most important asset in the company are the employees and what they do. So, why wouldn’t you invest at no cost and hardly any time it doesn’t have to be a long conversation, why not make that investment in the most important asset in the organization?
Don: [00:15:39] We have to move away from this mindset that people are replaceable They’re just entities, they’re parts of production. These people are the heart and soul of our organization and we want that heart beating strongly.
Kelly: [00:15:52] There was a 2017 study done by Office Team that revealed that two-thirds of workers surveyed said they would leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated.
Kelly: [00:16:02] That’s a significant number of people walking out the door for something that’s so simple for a leader to deliver a CEO to do on a regular basis.
Don: [00:16:10] Yeah, so, some of this is generational. Although neurochemically the same happens for any aged human being when they get validation, you get a little release of some chemicals that feel good, resonate in the pleasure centers of the brain.
Don: [00:16:21] But for our youngest members of the workforce Millennials and Gen Z anyone really 35, 36 years of age or younger. They grew up in an era where there was lots of validation. I mean this is now when parents were at every soccer game, a lot of involvement with children in a way that just didn’t occur before to the depth, it just wasn’t as pervasive for Gen X and certainly for boomers.
Don: [00:16:45] This is a generation that expects to be validated. And as we’ve said before it’s the first generation in American history to receive trophies for losing. That is, you’re even validated if you lose.
Don: [00:16:57] The way this is played out in the workplace and almost anybody that has managed millennials, again I want to be careful. It’s very hard to generalize about a whole generation. But any manager that I’ve met and worked with that has millennials under them senses this need for validation in a way that feels out of proportion to what they’ve had to do in the past.
Don: [00:17:19] This need of this generation will be one of the driving forces of the future of work. And thank goodness it’s happening. It’s good, it’s important. It’s a natural part of the human condition we don’t want to resent it, we want to lean into it and do it more effectively.
Kelly: [00:17:34] To your point about not overgeneralizing, I appreciate that because it’s true that not everybody is going to react to validation the same way regardless of generation. And, some people don’t want to have those short and sweet conversations in the hallway, they would rather go about their business get their work done.
Kelly: [00:17:51] That does not mean that the same thing isn’t happening in their limbic system, that their brain isn’t also asking am I valued, am I an important member of this team on a daily basis so everyone needs this in some way.
Kelly: [00:18:05] It requires a lot of emotional intelligence and social intelligence on the part of a leader to understand how to do this well with each individual and the organization, especially for team leaders to their direct reports.
Kelly: [00:18:17] How do they tailor those conversations those short and sweet validation points to make each individual feel like a part of the team, like they are valued for more than just the work they produce, in a way that will connect with individuals that may or may not want conversations to flow the same way each time?
Don: [00:18:37] I think you’re talking about something that we’ve seen in our work. It’s a calibration, if you will, around validation.
Don: [00:18:44] You might tell someone, hey good morning, and then they want to tell you about their drive in. Someone else, you’ll say good morning and they’ll say just good morning back and keep going. Just calibrate.
Don: [00:18:54] And some people want it to be a little bit longer and more in-depth. And entertain that. And others, don’t feel put off if you say good morning and they say thanks and walk away. It’s still had the same impact.
Kelly: [00:19:08] And we’re not forcing this on individuals. We’re not forcing conversation we’re not forcing a way of interacting but we’re just working to see the needs of each individual and making them feel valued for who they are specifically.
Don: [00:19:21] Yes.
Don: [00:19:22] And so as we kind of wrap up this podcast for me a couple of key points, validation is unconditional.
Don: [00:19:29] This is not saying thank you for a good job. We’ll talk about that in the next podcast around recognition. This is just about the most fundamental human aspect of being with other people. They want to be seen and valued.
Don: [00:19:40] Direct eye contact, be present with them, be authentic, send that message: I see you, I know what you do for us and I value that. That’s important to me and to the company. Just because you’re here and we’re so glad you’re a part of our team.
Kelly: [00:19:56] That’s it for today. I’m your host. Kelly Burns and thank you for listening.
Kelly: [00:20:00] Tune in to next week’s episode on how to use recognition for maximum impact.
Kelly: [00:20:08] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high-performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out E3 Solutions.com right now.
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Kelly: [00:20:32] Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty-free from melodyloops.com.
Kelly: [00:20:40] Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week!