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Creating an Acknowledgment Culture

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I recently presented a keynote session on the power of acknowledgment to 800 attendees at a global project management conference in Helsinki, Finland.

Before my presentation, I kept hearing project managers say things like: "In Finland you know you are being acknowledged when your boss says, 'That wasn't too bad a job that you did.'" They told me repeatedly that acknowledgment was just not done in Finland.

I'd heard a similar trend in Germany--being acknowledged is when your boss doesn't say anything to you, I was told.

Now, I'm a perpetually optimistic person who always tells people they can single-handedly be agents for dramatic and powerful change--that it only takes one person to start the process. If someone acknowledges others in a heartfelt and authentic way, it will start to catch on.

But an entire culture? Could 800 project managers turn a whole culture around? Even I had my doubts.

During my presentation, I invited everyone to think of one person in their professional life that wanted, needed and deserved their acknowledgment but to whom they had never fully delivered it. Two brave people stood up and shared their profound and heartfelt acknowledgments of their Finnish bosses--who just happened to be in the audience!

Each time I asked both the acknowledger and the acknowledgee to stand. People in the audience were deeply moved and said this kind of exchange never occurs in Finland. Well, it did. Just because something is missing from a culture does not mean that it is not desirable or essential. Acknowledgment is, I believe, a basic human need, no matter what one's cultural conditioning.

I have since received e-mails from people in Finland telling me they've started to acknowledgment colleagues and family members in a profound and sincere way and are extremely pleased with the results. So I'm now becoming confident enough to say that yes, one project manager can certainly begin to change a culture.

Now just think of what 800 can do!  Germany, stay tuned!


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Dear Imran,

Thanks for commenting on my blog post. I am finding it fascinating to see how other cultures respond to the concept of acknowledgment. When you get down to it, though, no matter what the cultural orientation is, people in every culture still crave acknowledgments. It is a basic human need. So cultures will simply have to make the appropriate and necessary adjustments! If we all take the message out into our cultures, that will happen. Where are you from?

Warm regards,

Judith W. Umlas

Dear Pradeep,

I think your ideas for acknowledging and motivating project teams are excellent! I'm sure they create excitement, enthusiasm and a desire to achieve great results. Just make sure you also don't miss the opportunities to acknowledge your team members in a heartfelt and authentic way at any moment. This form of appreciation has a huge, positive impact on people. And keep sharing your ideas. I am going to cite them on my LinkedIn Power of Acknowledgment Resource Group and invite other people to submit theirs.

Warm regards,

Judith W. Umlas

It is sad when a culture holds back on such an opportunity to motivate projects teams. Some approaches I have seen work well in US projects I have worked on include handing a bag of Starbucks chocolate covered coffee beans out when an estimate was handed in, giving a book based on the projects internal name to the project team at project delivery and celebrating every gate review pass with a team beer bust.

Very True! Acknowledgement, definitely is natural requirement, and positive changes are always welcomed by cultures.

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