I heard an interview with Michael Palin on the radio last week. He was promoting his new BBC TV programme ‘Brazil’, unsurprisingly about his experiences whilst travelling in that country. I love watching his programmes. I’ve watched many of the ones he’s made in the past and always found the different scenes and customs in different places he’s visited fascinating. At least that’s what I thought before I heard the interview on the radio. 

During it he referred to himself as a “Professional Appreciator”. He explained that he’s not someone who does much activity himself but that he does notice and appreciate the things others do. He talked about it in a self-deprecating way but for me it’s not at all insignificant, it’s admirable. I’d love to be a professional appreciator – someone who consciously notices even the smallest things and realises and values their worth. Actually I think that’s what I really enjoy about his programmes – and others which follow a similar approach. Billy Connolly’s ‘world tour’ series for example. It’s actually the excitement and enthusiasm they seem to have for everything that I enjoy. As I said, I think it’s an admirable and attractive quality.
It’s also quite rare in my experience. And people who have it can sometimes be misinterpreted as shallow and focused on the unimportant, the pointless, the trivial. How would you react if one of your colleagues wanted to share their excitement about a beautiful flower they’d seen or an unusual cloud formation? 
In business in particular what’s considered important, what gets noticed most tends to be the big stuff, not the smaller actions or behaviours. And managers are recognised and rewarded for the higher level objectives they achieve, usually in a system that encourages a focus on strategic objectives and less on the small stuff.
We know though that performance is better when people are engaged and committed to the organisation. And we also know that one of the key drivers of engagement is the degree to which people feel recognised. The first stage in the process of recognition is noticing the little things people do that are valuable and warrant appreciation. It’s then the expression of appreciation for those things that result in people feeling recognised.
As is often the case it’s counter-intuitive. What we should be doing to engage people is to notice the small things more, to be excited and enthusiastic about them and to express appreciation. Isn’t it common sense that if lots and lots of small things are done well the bigger things will automatically fall into place?
I was reading that Michael Palin’s travel programmes are responsible for a phenomenon termed the “Palin effect” – areas of the world he has visited and produced programmes about then become popular tourist attractions. Wouldn’t it be great if the “Palin doctrine” resulted in higher engagement because being a professional appreciator became a core element of every manager’s role?
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Twitter: @accordengage
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