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The business value of self-esteem and self-worth

This is an example from early in my career when I was promoted to a senior role leading a large marketing team at Philips Electronics. It illustrates how an individual’s lack of a sense of self-worth can not only affect their own behaviour but, as a result, have a negative impact on the morale of colleagues and on the performance of the whole team. Germaine (not her real name) had already been the publicity manager for more than five years when I joined the team at Philips Electronics as Group Marketing Manager. Within a couple of months of becoming her line manager – the fourth in a row – I was due to go through her annual appraisal. As with many large corporates, this was usually taken to be a box-ticking exercise, often seen as just something for the direct report to endure for 40 minutes or so once a year. It was rare, at that time, for any manager to be taken through how best to complete an appraisal; heads of department were more or less left to select their own criteria for scoring the individual. When it came to sitting down with Germaine – who appeared to be rather disengaged and sceptical – I wasn’t sure where to start. I knew she was ‘good’ at her job – her day to day tasks of running ‘publicity’ – but was the source of much discontent and negative gossip within the team. It seemed important to get to the bottom of her lack of engagement with her colleagues, so we started the session with a general discussion about her role and her view of the team and the wider organisation. The general discussion over, we came to filling out the scoring section of the review: a one to ten scale and a column for comments. I was keen to find out, beyond the tasks, how Germaine saw herself, and so asked how she thought she should be scored in various areas. Her answer, for almost every category, was “Well I suppose I’m not that bad; maybe a six?”. I replied, “Why not an eight or a nine or a ten?” She shrugged her shoulders and said nothing and gave a look that said, “Please can we get this over?”. I reminded her of what she had said about the different elements of her job, the projects that had gone well, the challenges successfully overcome, the budget targets met. I also gave her feedback on what I had seen in the first few weeks in the department and asked the question again about her score, now on the basis of the evidence. She gave it some thought and offered, “I suppose, maybe, a seven or an eight?”. “Who knows best what you do and how well you do it?”, I replied, and left a pause in the air. “Maybe, in some areas, even a nine?” she tentatively suggested. “So, shall we put a nine down?” I asked. “Yes, a nine… definitely a nine!” she said, and dropped her shoulders and smiled. “Definitely a nine.” The session ended with Germaine standing taller, with her head lifted up and seemingly enthusiastic. A few days later, one of her colleagues, a senior member of the team, remarked to me that she seemed much more engaged and positive with the rest of the team. The team also was involving her more in early discussions about upcoming activities. Six months later, I was able to get sign-off on a promotion to Senior Publicity Manager and a mid-year pay increment for Germaine. A positive sense of self-worth of one member of a team transmits to the other members of the team. They not only feel positive, but they also got a greater value from the contribution of their colleague. Recognising an individual’s contribution and giving praise, however, are not enough. Taking the time to understand how a person sees themselves and helping them to reflect and accept their strengths and make changes, where they are needed, is the key to increasing the value of the contribution that person can make to the organisation.