How to get recommendations from your coworkers

Tips for Entrepreneurs: Companies of all levels are comprised of human beings who need guidance and insight that they don’t currently have.

Office 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Office 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When I spoke at Google recently, one of the topics the employees seemed particularly keen to hear about was testimonials and getting recommendations.
“Many of us are engineers here, and engineers have a nasty habit of overcompensating on negative attributes of coworkers to be absolutely sure that a positive comment isn’t taken to be larger than it really is in real life,” one employee said. “The downside is that most recommendations can never be used because they make the person look bad instead of good.”
Many of his coworkers nodded in agreement at his brave breaking-the-ice question during a break for Q&A.
I explained that just like when a college professor is asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student, they don’t really spend three hours writing a detailed letter. Rather, they say to the hopeful student: “Draft up something for me that I can use. I’ll tweak and send it.”
In the same way, when you want a recommendation from someone, always see if you can send them, in writing, something they have complimented you about in person or with a more formal wording of the positive feedback (positive feedback is a testimonial if you think about it, while negative feedback can also be called constructive criticism).
But even when that is not possible, there is much to be achieved by taking the recommendation and rewriting it into a “sandwich.”
Just as a sandwich has meat in the middle with bread on both sides, a recommendation letter that has non-positive counterbalancing negatives should be smothered with plaudits before and afterward so that the picture is painted properly: that the prospective employee is, in fact, an extremely talented and dedicated employee, even if he or she is not a paragon of perfection and does have human flaws.
To me, a “regular human being” who is not a Google genius of engineer, this was extremely eye opening. But to the group I was talking to, this topic was not just something possible, but something they lived with every day and something they were willing to take a few minutes to explore in the fairly short time allotted.
One of the major benefits for the employees was when I explained that what we were discussing was brain food in the form of Playdough.
“Take what I’m saying and tweak in your brain like you would mold Playdough,” I said. “It’s not about using the knowledge I’m giving you in the exact way I’m saying it, but rather, thinking about how to tweak it and adapt it to your situation.
Feel free to tweak it beyond recognition!” Afterward, when I finished the presentation, a different employee came over to me and gave me an entirely new level of insight.
“You should know that what you explained from Dr. Cialdini about consistency,” he said, “and how it is a scientifically proven fact that someone who does something for you is more likely to do it in the future, makes a major difference here at Google more than at any other company, which is something that is literally a gold mine that is worth a fortune to anyone here who grasped it. This is because here at Google, our occasional employee reviews are not filled out, as in many other companies, by our bosses, but rather by our coworkers, who anonymously rate us for how well we are doing as teammates and as coworkers.
“By applying what you explained, and asking for LinkedIn recommendations from our coworkers, we have the ability to influence what will be written about us afterward on our employee review in anonymity. All we have to do is ask for a testimonial as to our work, which employees we work well with would be glad to achieve. But since they want to be consistent with what they have said in the past, that would make them more likely to rate me higher on the annual review then if I hadn’t asked.”
I felt extremely gratified to have gotten such a response. To be frank, I had come to Tel Aviv to speak at Google headquarters because I knew that speaking there would catapult me – looks notwithstanding – into a new world of corporate speaking at a level that was hard to break into. And having spoken there, and gotten a round of applause, made me realize that Google was actually a company full of human beings who related to me as an individual, as well as to what I had taught them.
Companies of all levels are comprised of human beings who need guidance and insight that they don’t currently have. And if you can give it to them, you can get to places you didn’t think you could still get to in this lifetime.
Take what I’ve said in this column and treat it as Silly Putty. I’m not asking you if you can use this information, but rather the real question: How? I look forward to hearing about it!
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Issamar Ginzberg is a rabbi, businessman, public speaker and marketer.