Manager worries his nomination will hurt team morale.
Q: I am the manager of a small department and have been nominated for an “employee of the year” award. A lot of what was called out in my nomination is based on the hard work of the individuals on the team. How do I keep this situation from hurting morale? —Alf, 38, team leader
A: Share the glory, acknowledging their contributions privately and publicly.
Let’s start with the easy steps. You can graciously acknowledge the team by sharing specifics about their contributions to your success. For example, when you thank the person for the nomination, call out the roles your team members played. If you win the award, you can again — perhaps even more publicly — give broader credit. And include the team in these communications so they feel the glow.
Then do some appreciation of your own. Have a team lunch and give folks a half-day off, explicitly making it in appreciation for their contributions. Thank them for all they do, again, being specific, because the detail you mention will make the thanks much more meaningful.
Neither of those steps are rocket science, so I suspect there are more complex dynamics behind the scenes.
Overall, how is your relationship with your team? If you’ve got trust established, it shouldn’t be a big step to having this feel like a team victory. If that trust is not in place, then you’re very right to worry about damage to morale. In that case, though, the issue goes deeper than the name on the award.
Look at events leading up to the nomination. If you’re consistently showing up as the face of the team, presenting the work that your team members do or representing the team in meetings, it’s no wonder the nomination would go to you. But at many levels, this may be a problem. Not only is it putting you in an awkward position now, it could limit your team’s development and sense of satisfaction with their work (and with you, as their manager).
Switching gears, how is your personal relationship with success? It sounds like you’re at least sheepish about this award. Consider the ways that you contributed and let yourself be happy about it! And if it’s difficult to acknowledge your own strengths, work through that, as it will hold you back.
Having thought this through, you need to talk to your team. The worst thing that could happen is that they hear from someone other than you.
Plan this conversation carefully, knowing the main points you want to make. Set an authentic emotional tone; for example, “I have exciting news for the team: Our work is acknowledged. But this should be a team award, so I feel awkward.” How does this feel? If it brings up anxiety, consider the source, and what you’re afraid might happen so you can process that before you begin.
Most important, use this as a springboard to strengthen the team relationships so that all wins truly feel like victories for your whole team.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.