Disclaimer: The identities of the characters in the story below have been changed to protect the innocent from possible repercussions by her moronic boss(es).

The military has an acronym for almost everything… and for the rest, it has initialisms. Today’s acronym is BLUF (pronounced bluff) – Bottom Line Up Front. Often in military briefings, you give the boss the BLUF, so they don’t have to pay attention to the rest of what you say.

Today’s BLUF is: You don’t have to spend money to piss people off; weak leaders can do it for free.

When I was talking to someone I really care about (she’s the innocent I mentioned earlier), she told me about a token of appreciation she’d received at work that day. I asked her if everyone received the same token and if it made her feel appreciated.

Her answer was not surprising: Yes and no, respectively.

The token was, incredibly, a pair of socks with the company logo on them. Maybe not incredible to you, but I was certainly incredulous. I couldn’t help but share my initial impression of the token:

Who the hell thought this was a good idea?

I guess as God rains on the good and evil alike, so the boss gave socks to the high performers and the slackers alike. Heavy sigh.

Of the people I shared my initial impression with, only my friends in Corporate America agreed with me. Those in local government positions scolded me and told me it was the thought that counted, while those in federal government service made it clear they didn’t have the budget for tokens of appreciation. Why was I not surprised (again)?

Somewhere there was a chain of events that led enough people in this organization to convince the Emperor he would look splendid in a company logo-emblazoned pair of socks. And then they began to believe that after 18 months of working in the h—–care industry during a global pandemic, their employees deserved a pair of socks and would appreciate them because the Emperor already had a pair.

I’m a little disappointed for her that not once during the previous 18 months had anyone up the food chain expressed their appreciation to that someone I really care about for working in an environment with a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 – not even providing them with company logo N-95 masks – but they thought giving them a pair of socks was a good idea.

I must be missing something. Now of all times, leaders need to make their employees know they’re appreciated for the effort they’ve made over the last year and a half to keep the company up and running successfully. What follows are some nuggets I thought were intuitive but clearly aren’t to everyone.

  • If we want to know what makes our teams feel appreciated, we have to have heart-to-heart conversations with them and actively listen to discern the answer… or we can ask them directly. There are ways to do both more effectively than guess, and it takes time, trust and approachability or we’ll never get the answer.
  • If we give the same token of appreciation to everyone, it’s not a token of appreciation, unless we’re just thankful that people still choose to work for us. It’s one thing to give everyone the same kind of shirt with a logo to wear at work or elsewhere (that’s called marketing and brand recognition), but socks? Give me a break.
  • If we have money to spend on worthless trinkets for everyone, we have money to give something meaningful to a few (hopefully our top performers).
  • Just because our boss (that’s the moron I mentioned earlier) thinks it’s a good idea – or even just an okay idea – we don’t have to hold our tongues and embolden them to convince the Emperor he/she will look good in their new socks.

Bottom line: You don’t have to spend money to piss people off. I suspect someone I really care about will put the socks in the company logo backpack they gave her a couple of years ago, and I’ll never see them again.

Do you know what makes your team feel appreciated?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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