Management Myth 24: People Don’t Need External Credit

“Robert, do you have a minute?” Cheryl, the development manager, stood at her director’s door.

“Sure, let me save this.” Robert stopped what he was doing. “You look worried. Come on over and let’s sit at the visitors table. This looks serious.”

“Well, it is. I’m not sure how to say it, so I’ll just spit it out.”

Robert nodded.

Cheryl took a deep breath. “You remember the big push to finish the release last month? We’re agile, but our transition is shaky. We actually pulled some overtime, which we’re not supposed to do. We didn’t extend our timebox, but not everyone worked just forty hours a week. Some people worked close to sixty hours the entire timebox. It was a very tough two-week iteration.

“You came around to our demo, which was great. The team appreciated your thanks. You even wrote individual thank-you email notes. It looked like you really understood what the team did.

“But you took credit for what the team did at the Ops meeting. At least, that’s what it seemed like to me and to everyone on the team. Maybe you can tell me what really happened. I’m upset, and I didn’t even realize it had happened. Someone on the team read the public minutes, so now the team is upset. Please tell me what happened.”

Robert shook his head. “Oh, boy, that’s not what I intended at all. But I can understand that’s how it came across.

“At the Ops meeting, all the directors explain how their projects and programs are proceeding. You know that, right?”

Cheryl nodded.

“Well, they were in a rush to finish at the Ops meeting. What a surprise. So they wanted to timebox everyone’s reports. I had five minutes to report on your team’s work and everyone else’s work. I did. And I’m not in charge of the minutes. I probably said something like, “We finished the release on time.” I didn’t say, “The team completed the release on time” to clarify that the team had done it. I wasn’t clear because I was rushing. And the minutes reflected that.

“I was not trying to take away credit from your team. I was not trying to take the credit myself. I can see how it looked. I hadn’t even looked at the Ops minutes.

“Now that agile makes everything more transparent, I’d better take a look at these things. I can see why you’re upset and why the team is upset. Let me fix the minutes and apologize to the team.

“I do not want to take credit for things I had nothing to do with.”

“Thanks,” Cheryl said. “I realize this might sound like a small thing, but it’s not a small thing to the team. These folks worked really hard. You didn’t work on their project. They were quite surprised to see you associated with the project.”

Robert smiled and said, “Well, you are in my organization. But, no, I had nothing to do with your project.”

Cheryl grinned and sat back in her chair.

Robert continued. “I’ll fix the minutes. How about if I stop by the team room today? Will that help?”

“An email would be great, too,” Cheryl suggested.

“OK, I’ll do both.

Always Give Credit for Work Other People Perform

When you’re the manager, always make sure you know who performed the work, and make sure other people know, too. It seems like a small thing, but it’s huge for the people who did the work.

People want to know you appreciate them. They want to know you are willing to carry that appreciation up the corporate ladder. More importantly, they want to know you are not a jerk who will take credit for the work they perform.

Miscommunications can occur, and when they do, you should straighten them out right away if you know about them.

Fix Miscommunications When They Occur

We’re people, so miscommunications do occur. People say the wrong things. People take minutes incorrectly. People hear the wrong things. Whatever the problem is, communications slip-ups will happen. And you will need to recover.

When a communications problem happens, make sure you explain your appreciation to the people who did the great job, and to the people who should have known that the people did the great job. Choose your words with care. This time, write your words down and send an email, write a memo, or fix the minutes of a meeting. You want a record of this so that people will be able to find the electronic or written archive of the conversation they hear.

You Can’t Over-Appreciate People

An appreciation is a personalized thank-you. It works quite well for individuals. Don’t use it for teams. It loses its power when you try to use it for multiple people at once.

Here is a form of an appreciation:

<First name>, I appreciate you for <specific thing the person did>. It gave me <specific benefit to me>.

You can see that an appreciation, given in private one at a time to specific people, is a powerful way to reinforce the behavior you find valuable.

Here, Robert could say to Cheryl, “Cheryl, I appreciate you for the courage it took to say this to me. It allowed me to fix this before it became a huge problem and blew up in my face. Thank you for having my back.”

When You Give Credit, You Look Like a Star

When you give credit to other people, you look like a star to the rest of the organization. Even if you didn’t hire the people who are doing a stellar job, you’re managing them in some way that allows them to be great. The more the people who work for you are doing great work, the better you look.

And the more you look like you don’t have to work hard to manage them, the better you are as a manager—and the better you look.

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