Why “Great Job” Isn’t Always Great Acknowledgment

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Why “Great Job” Isn’t Always Great Acknowledgment

We all love to be acknowledged, and we’re taught that expressing our appreciation is part of being a caring and effective leader. However, when it comes down to actually showing appreciation, most of us aren’t all that good at it.

One common practice I’ve noticed is simply saying, “Great job.” It’s quick and easy, and we think the person hearing it will feel appreciated—but they rarely do.

After all, do they know why you’re saying it? Do they understand the full impact of their accomplishment? Likely not. We can do much better.

Part of our role as effective leaders is to help grow and elevate our team members and to give direction about how they can improve.

When you reinforce positive behavior, it lets your team know what they’re doing right and encourages them to repeat it. When you take the time to consistently acknowledge what your team is doing well, it makes it easier to course correct later.

So how do you get really good at acknowledgment? Here are some simple tips to take it to the next level.

Pay attention. I get it—we’re busy. It’s easy to be so task-focused that we don’t think about the people who are actually doing them.

If you’re not used to acknowledging your team, keep in mind that it requires your attention and awareness. It involves slowing down even when you’re busy, because when you’re distracted, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on around you or other people’s contributions. You’re only focusing on what’s next on your to-do list.

Use these steps. At Strategic Coach, we’ve been practicing The Collaborative Way* method of communication, and the fifth step is “Acknowledgment and Appreciation.” In this process, Lloyd Fickett illustrates that the best acknowledgments involve four things:

  • Discerning what to acknowledge.
  • Choosing when to acknowledge.
  • Acknowledging the specific.
  • Acknowledging the impact on you.

For example, your team member has put together and delivered a beautiful presentation, even though they were nervous about public speaking. Your acknowledgment might go something like this:

“Chris, you did a wonderful job on that presentation. Your use of graphics and text was very well done, you clearly got the message across, and everyone in the room was impressed by how well articulated the situation was. I know it took a lot of courage for you to speak in front of the group, and I really appreciate how you took on this project on top of your other responsibilities—it really freed me up, and I can see lots of opportunities for you to take on similar projects in the future. Thank you.”

This kind of specific, thoughtful, and heartfelt acknowledgment is on a completely different level than “great job.”


“Acknowledgment is rich in potential and costs nothing.” Shannon Waller
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Learn how to receive a compliment. One reason we don’t give acknowledgments is that people seem to shrug them off. It’s common for people, maybe even you, to say, “It was nothing,” or “Oh, I really didn’t do that much,” or any of the other ways we deflect praise.

If you think about it, a compliment is a gift, and we want to treat it as such. Deflecting or devaluing the compliment means you’re rejecting the gift, and the giver. Instead, practice receiving it graciously.

I coach our team and my clients to do two things when they receive a compliment even if they don’t think they deserve it: smile and say thank you.

In fact, I’ll even rehearse this with teams in my workshops. I’ll compliment the group and have them practice smiling and saying thank you. It usually takes a few tries to get over the awkwardness, but they get there. Try this yourself the next time you’re tempted to shrug off a compliment.

As you get better at acknowledging people’s contributions, you’ll start to see them perk up when they’re in your presence because they know you’re interested in what they’re up to. As this becomes part of your team’s culture, you’ll notice that they’ll start to acknowledge and appreciate one another more too.

It’s no secret that showing your appreciation holds great value. It’s how you hold onto great team members and foster engagement, collaboration, and trust. These are all great reasons to ditch “great job” in favor of more authentic and sincere forms of acknowledgment.

*The Collaborative Way® is a registered trademark of Lloyd Fickett & Associates Inc. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Shannon Waller

Shannon is a natural collaborator who instinctively saw that a thriving Unique Ability® Team can strengthen their entrepreneur, the business, and themselves. A win-win-win. Go, team, is Shannon’s rallying cry.

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