Counting Strokes

In golf, winners dole out fewer strokes than their competitors. In management, the opposite is true.

A “stroke” is a unit of human contact and recognition: a pat on the back, applause, a congratulatory note, a hug, an award, or praise.

And the managers who withhold strokes, consciously or unconsciously, are losing out.

The term “strokes” comes from Transactional Analysis. In the 1950’s, Canadian-born psychiatrist Eric Berne studied the games people play and the healthy and unhealthy ways that we interact. Through his research, he determined that strokes are a basic human need; we need them like we need water. And when people are exposed to fear, anger, stress and frustration our need for strokes goes up.

We all have a sub-conscious stroke counter. Acknowledgments, both large and small are tallied up. They contribute to our sense of well-being and worth. People who don’t get enough strokes, feel insecure, undervalued and often in a highly charged, stroke-deprived workplace, people start to act out to get recognition.

What happens when people feel chronically stroke-deprived?

  1. Productivity suffers: if people’s best efforts at work aren’t being recognized, they eventually stop putting their energy into doing good work. Instead they turn to less productive ways of getting noticed. People vie for attention, bicker, back-stab, and claim credit for other people’s work. They spend less time being valuable and more time proving they are valuable.
  2. Good people leave: People don’t really leave companies for more money, they leave because they feel undervalued. Strokes are an important part of that equation.

Why don’t managers dole out more strokes?

  1. They don’t get strokes. Managers who get strokes usually pass them on. If you aren’t getting recognition and praise from the people upstairs, you need to be keenly aware that you don’t withhold strokes form your team. You don’t want them to feel the way you feel. Change starts with you. There’s no excuse for being a bad boss.
  2. They are uncomfortable handing out praise. Some people genuinely feel awkward or uncomfortable giving out strokes. Personality-style and upbringing come into play here. If you are uncomfortable praising someone, ask yourself if it’s because the praise is unwarranted or if it’s because of your hang-ups. If it’s you, you are going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s time to step up.
  3. They don’t get it. Some managers still think that if you give people too many strokes they’ll relax and take it easy. Nonsense. That’s archaic thinking. People do their best work when they feel valued and secure and it’s your job as their manager to create that environment.

3 things you need to know about giving strokes.

  1. Strokes have to be genuine. People know when they aren’t, and false praise undercuts your credibility.
  2. Managers have a lot of opportunities to give out strokes: in one on one meetings, when people achieve targets, when people make a positive behaviour change, when you see them step outside their comfort zone, when they take on something new, when someone demonstrates a behavior you want the rest of the team to aspire to, when people put in honest effort, when you see them giving you or the company their discretionary effort. These opportunities shouldn’t be few and far between.
  3. We can all feel stroke deprived. As a manager, all you can do is make sure the people on your team feel valued at work. Demonstrate that you see them and value them. Do it in writing, in person, say it with gifts or privileges. Create a safe, healthy, positive work environment and people will respond with their trust, loyalty and best work efforts.

Your assignment this month is to find three people on your team who need a stroke and start doling them out! Do it now.

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