Q&A with Preciate President and COO Kate Sheffield

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President and COO Kate Sheffield had always made it her priority as a new manager to diffuse toxic workplace culture with positivity, inclusiveness, and appreciation. These methods led her to Preciate, and what Kate has been championing her entire career is finding technological legs in the Preciate app.

Below, Kate shares why she joined the Preciate team, the impact she believes real-time recognition will have and her biggest piece of advice for any new manager.

Why did you join Preciate?

When Ed explained to me what Preciate did, I realized that it was doing deliberately what I have done intuitively my whole career — build relationships by recognizing the good in others. How can you not want to be a part of that?

Before you joined the Preciate team, what was your biggest challenge when entering an organization as a new manager?

Whenever I’d been brought in to oversee an existing operation, it was because something wasn’t working. But the problem wasn’t a workflow or vendor issue or even a lack of resources. I discovered that the people were so concerned with being seen only for what they were doing wrong, that they spent an inordinate amount of time trying to show what everyone else was doing worse. Nothing positive can grow in that environment.

My first step was always to sit down and listen to everyone on my team as well as anyone who interacted with my team — at every level. I’d find something each person did well and specifically what they took pride in doing well. Then, I would deliberately recognize each person in a public way: in a meeting, by email or even at the water cooler. I recognized anything I saw that was positive, such as handling a difficult customer, creating a new design, staying late to get something finished, helping a fellow employee, educating me on some issue or even quietly watering the plants. Almost everyone is doing something right.

The trick to turning around any group is to change their mindset from “What am I doing right and everyone else is doing wrong?” to “What is he doing right and what can I bring to the table make it even better?”

How did this change your teams’ interactions with each other?

When people start to realize that what is being said about them is positive, they start to open up with their ideas. But, they need to feel comfortable in an environment that doesn’t punish them for speaking up and possibly being wrong.

Therefore, as people would share their ideas, I’d ensure that they were heard and I’d encourage others to weigh in. When people know that their contributions are valued, they feel part of the process. At that point, they become comfortable recognizing each other, and that’s when the magic really happens.

Only if you are drowning do you need to push someone else down to breathe.

What has launching Preciate taught you about the importance of real-time recognition?

Launching Preciate has shown me the importance of giving recognition in real time and in a way that is shareable and portable. I once saved a voicemail from my boss for 2 years because it was so precious to me. The sentiment was in the moment and was very heartfelt as it referenced my specific part in the success of a big initiative. That’s part of the brilliance of Preciate — every recognition lives outside of the company and it’s tied to what it should be, the individual.

With Preciate, when you say thank you or you praise someone for their efforts, you can add detail and context that brings that recognition to life. I think about those times I’ve given recognition during a review or when writing a letter of recommendation or even on LinkedIn. It can be difficult because time has dulled the details that make the recommendation unique. Invariably, it all starts to sound formulaic.

How do you envision Preciate will be adopted within organizations? Is this something you see being driven by HR teams or through organic referrals?

Preciate will be driven by the individuals who inherently understand the importance of public recognition and shared values and experiences and how that type of cohesion makes for a better work environment. The goal is not just to be the most productive team, but the most unified group. That’s what makes work truly rewarding.

How will Preciate foster better communication within teams?

Preciate will allow people to stop being so concerned about whether they are valued so they can instead place their attention on how they can bring more to the effort — both through the support of others as well as their own talents for the work product. It helps to shed the insecurities that plague us all.

What kind of impact has Preciate had on your team?

Our CEO, Ed Stevens, calls Preciate our “own secret weapon” and I think he’s spot on. Everyone on the Preciate team is so different, and yet we are a very strong, cohesive team. We use the Moment feature every day to take the time to recognize each other. And, because I’m asked to be a validator, I often learn about some of the really neat things others are doing.

For instance, our CTO, Mike, spent an entire weekend teaching himself SWIFT. As a result, he’s relied on the youngest member of our team, Gabriel, to guide and teach him. The other day Mike recognized Gabriel for his help and asked me to validate the recognition. Consequently, it gave me invaluable insight into how our engineers are supporting each other.

If you could offer just one piece of advice to a manager entering an organization for the first time, what would it be?

The first thing to do is to listen; you build the best relationships when you listen first. Then, focus on what everyone is doing right and build from there. The rest of it will fall away of its own accord. What happened to me is that the people who didn’t jump on board with the positive “take,” got bored and left. They had been able to manipulate the situation and when they could no longer do it, they eventually moved on.

Ed Stevens