You don’t need to search too deep in any organisation or team to catch someone doing something wrong or to point out a problem that needs to be fixed.

But when was the last time you intentionally went looking to catch someone in the act of doing something right?

This idea “catch people doing something right” has always stayed with me from reading the classic book “One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard. 

But what do you do when you catch them? How do show your appreciation in a meaningful way? And more than that, how do you use that opportunity to proactively build and shape the desired culture of your team or organisation? 

Here are four ideas to help get the most of your next affirming conversation. 

1. Make it Specific 

It doesn’t seem to be an issue going into detail when we are confronting someone who has done something wrong. We know explicitly what we don’t like. But when affirming someone we should be just as specific and articulate in our praise as we would be in our criticism. Being specific and adding detail lets people know that you noticed their work, that alone can speak volumes.

  • What did you see or hear? 
  • What are the specific positive behaviours that you want to affirm?
  • What caught your attention? 

Try saying something like – “Hi_______ I just want you to know I noticed that…”

2. Make it Meaningful

What was the impact of their actions? How did this positive behaviour impact you or your team? But most importantly why was this action meaningful to you or to your team? How can you let this person know that their actions made a real difference? 

  • What did their actions enable you or your team to do more / less of?
  • How did it make you or the team feel?
  • Who was helped as a result of these actions? 

Try saying something like – “That was impacting to me/our team because…” 

3. Make it Intentional 

Affirming positive behaviour is an opportunity to intentionally build, shape and reinforce the team or organisational culture you are trying to build. How does this specific behaviour align with the team values and culture you are wanting to reinforce? Have you taken time to define and create language around your ideal culture that you can reference in this conversation? 

  • What is your team culture or values? 
  • What is the behaviour and actions linked to those values? 
  • How does this behaviour align with those values and behaviours? 

Try saying something like – “This matters because the type of team we are building is…”

4. Make it Personal

Say thank you in a way that is personal. We give and receive appreciation in different ways. For one person a public thank you in a team meeting is valuable, for others it may be embarrassing and have an unintended effect. Some people appreciate a gift, others just love a handwritten card. Understand how a person feels valued and express it in their own language of appreciation. (You can read some great thoughts and ideas on this by Rohan Dredge here).

  • How does this person feel valued? 
  • What would make this thank you feel more personal? 
  • Could I ask them how they would like to be recognised and build something together? 

Try saying something like – “I want to say thank you by…”

Let’s pull this all together.

Example: Lucy has just taken on additional work on a project to support a struggling team member. This is over and above her already full schedule. 

Specific: Hi Lucy, i just wanted to let you know that I noticed you have taken on some of the extra project work over and above your role. 

Meaningful: I know this has had an impact on our ability to deliver the outcomes of the project by our agreed deadline which we wouldn’t have been able to do without you. It also meant that I was able to stay focused on my project work and not get pulled down into the detail on this which was really valuable to me. I know you have a lot of work on your plate and you taking this on was over and above. 

Intentional: This really matters because we all want to have a culture in our team where we have each other’s back. 

Personal: So I just wanted to say thank you with this card and a couple of movie tickets, because I know you said you enjoy going to the movies but haven’t been lately. 

It’s doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but it should be an intentional conversation. 

Now it’s your turn. Go find someone and catch them in the act (of doing something right).