The Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting on June 1st began as usual, with Commissioner Scott Metzger beginning the meeting with a prayer and then the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. As everyone was taking their seat, Metzger stated, “We’ll convene the commissioners meeting at this time, and we welcome back Larry Stout from the state of Alaska; I hope you had a good time.”
It was obviously a spontaneous gesture on Metzger’s part. I was first a bit embarrassed, but at the same time, I was deeply touched by the gesture. To dedicate hours and hours to filter down information that would be helpful and informative to the general public concerning county government is more frustrating than fun. That simple sentence of acknowledgment in a public meeting was tremendously uplifting.
Hardly two meetings in a row go by without at least one county personnel being recognized for a ten/twenty/thirty-year service award. The June 1st meeting was no exception. Every seat in the room was taken as colleagues of Natalie Steppe from the Veterans Affairs Department and Sherrie Hook from the Planning Department; each received a ten-year award recognition. It took fifteen minutes for each of these ladies to be recognized by their department director with a short explanation of their work, followed by a picture of them holding their awards with their bosses and the county commissioners.
The commissioners had a long list of agenda items that they had to go through; reports, personnel actions, board of assessment revisions, and thirteen action items. Yet before any of that, they wanted to first acknowledge and honor those who had reached a certain point in their career working for the county.
I know there are some that see this as a waste of valuable time, seeing it as a token gesture. Yes, it might seem so to the person NOT being recognized, but science has shown there is a positive benefit from recognition. There are a hundred people who will have no hesitation in telling you that you are doing something wrong, for every one person who will take the time to give a pat on the back and say, “Nice job.”
It even starts in school. The student who does everything the teacher asks and never rocks the boat is one that is taken for granted. They do not get the teacher’s attention. But the little hooligan who struggles with learning discovers quickly that acting up gets attention from the teacher. Misbehaving has its benefits.
My oldest son discovered this in fourth grade. He was a straight-A student but enjoyed getting in trouble more. In fact, whenever the teacher would ask who had done the mischief, he would raise his hand even if he did not do it. When I had a talk with the school principal about this, I sat down with my son and asked him why he did it. He said simply, “I don’t know, Dad, I just like getting the teacher’s attention.”
Grownups generally prefer positive recognition, but it is a lot harder to come by. When teaching Industrial/Organizational Psychology, I discovered that many managers are pathetically poor in the area of appreciation for good work. I got a contract with a Fortune 100 company that shall not be named, which had a problem with keeping mid-management staff at their main headquarters. They wanted a training program, but I asked them to start by sitting in their break room for two days to engage these managers about their work. I would strike up a conversation and then ask two questions. The first was asking when the last time was that they had been recognized for doing good work. The managers noted events when their team or section was recognized, but in two days of meeting with dozens and dozens of men and women managers, I did not find a single one that was individually commended for their work by their bosses. I also asked when the last time was that they were told they were doing something wrong, and they looked at their watches and would say, “Well, let’s see, that that was about.”
So, hats off to the Lycoming County Commissioners who recognized their own staff who do the daily stuff that is often mundane yet is vitally necessary for these departments to function and meet the needs of the county. And also, when they give extra recognition from time to time to those that do not work for the county but also go above and beyond what is expected to help their community. And an extra ‘attaboy’ to Commissioner Metzger for giving a one-sentence acknowledgment to a hard-working, minimum-compensation septuagenarian feature writer for a county-wide circulation weekly newspaper. It is greatly appreciated.