Employee Motivation Thrives On Recognition

Good managers remember to recognize employees. Great managers do it every day.

When comedian George Burns received an honorary degree from the University of Hartford at age 92, he said: “I can’t wait to run home and tell my mother about this. She always wanted me to be a doctor.” It’s a funny story, but Burns makes a serious point. Everyone craves recognition, and no one ever outgrows the need for it.

The Family and Work Institute conducted several studies, concluding that the strained business climate of the last few years has bred a “different kind of worker.” Today’s employee is willing to work hard if there is: 1) recognition for achievement, 2) listening by the manager, 3) balance between work and family, and 4) opportunity for training. Interestingly enough, recognition came out as number one.

What can you do to give more recognition–recognition that is sincere, appreciated, and motivating? PUT EMPLOYEE RECOGNITION ON YOUR WEEKLY TO-DO LIST. You probably have a list of all the things you want to accomplish or need to do. Just add “employee recognition” to that list. Write down the name of every person who reports to you, and cross off his/her name after you praise him/her.

LEAVE OCCASIONAL VOICE-MAIL PRAISINGS. Most of us use voice mail to give out assignments or ask questions. Why not leave a message for a job well done? You can even do it from your cell phone on the way home so it doesn’t take any extra time.

WRITE NOTES AT THE END OF THE DAY. Keep a stack of note cards on your desk so you don’t forget to give the recognition. At the end of the day, take two minutes to write thank-you notes to those employees who made a difference that day.

Of course, you’ve got to learn to use the right words with the right tone. You can’t write a note that gives a pat on the back and a kick in the rear end at the same time. You can’t say, “Good report. What took you so long?” Or as Mark Twain once said, “I did not attend his funeral, but I wrote a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

Writing is powerful. I find employees keep notes of recognition almost forever. In fact, some of you reading this may even have school report cards or customer letters of appreciation from years ago. As Lee Iacocca said in his book, Iacocca: An Autobiography, “If you want to give a man credit, put it in writing. If you want to give him hell, do it on the phone.”

One sales manager of a large real estate office in Florida even goes a step farther. Along with her letter of appreciation, she sends a file folder labeled “Success File.” She tells her employees to file her letter in the folder along with other letters that might be received from colleagues, customers, or anyone. She tells her employees to pull out the file and reread it whenever they fail or just don’t feel good about themselves.

You could also USE THE FIVE-COIN APPROACH. At the beginning of the day, put five coins in your left pocket. Each time you praise an employee, transfer a coin to your other pocket. I know, it sounds corny, but it works. It helps you develop the habit of looking for things you can sincerely praise.

Finally, you could LET EVERYONE ENJOY THE RECOGNITION. Sometimes individual employees or intact teams feel uncomfortable being singled out for recognition their coworkers don’t receive. The chemical division at Milliken avoids that problem by giving everyone coffee and donuts when any group achieves a quality milestone. A prominently displayed sign gives the achieving group credit for their accomplishment–AND for making free coffee and donuts available to everyone.

Too many organizations are like Underachievers Anonymous. When you call them, they answer by asking, “Hello, what is the least we can do for you?” To motivate today’s employee, you’ve got to be asking a different question. You’ve got to be asking, “What’s the best I can do for you?”

Action:  Make it your personal challenge to write and send three notes of recognition this week. Be sincere, specific, and brief, and you’ll be taking one more step in the process of being a great manager.