I recently presented a keynote session on the power of acknowledgment to 800 attendees at a global project management conference in Helsinki, Finland.
Before my presentation, I kept hearing project managers say things like: "In Finland you know you are being acknowledged when your boss says, 'That wasn't too bad a job that you did.'" They told me repeatedly that acknowledgment was just not done in Finland.
I'd heard a similar trend in Germany--being acknowledged is when your boss doesn't say anything to you, I was told.
Now, I'm a perpetually optimistic person who always tells people they can single-handedly be agents for dramatic and powerful change--that it only takes one person to start the process. If someone acknowledges others in a heartfelt and authentic way, it will start to catch on.
But an entire culture? Could 800 project managers turn a whole culture around? Even I had my doubts.
During my presentation, I invited everyone to think of one person in their professional life that wanted, needed and deserved their acknowledgment but to whom they had never fully delivered it. Two brave people stood up and shared their profound and heartfelt acknowledgments of their Finnish bosses--who just happened to be in the audience!
Each time I asked both the acknowledger and the acknowledgee to stand. People in the audience were deeply moved and said this kind of exchange never occurs in Finland. Well, it did. Just because something is missing from a culture does not mean that it is not desirable or essential. Acknowledgment is, I believe, a basic human need, no matter what one's cultural conditioning.
I have since received e-mails from people in Finland telling me they've started to acknowledgment colleagues and family members in a profound and sincere way and are extremely pleased with the results. So I'm now becoming confident enough to say that yes, one project manager can certainly begin to change a culture.
Now just think of what 800 can do! Germany, stay tuned!