A simple “you’re doing a good job” just won’t cut it for today’s overworked employee.
SUDDENLY, IT FEELS LIKE 2000 ALL OVER AGAIN. We are a few years removed from the recession’s epicenter, but more than ever, we’ve got to keep on sledding, usually with smaller teams. And it’s not just us, as many of you are likely leaders and managers, too, your talents are doing twice as much work with half as many resources. And there’s no end in sight.
Our challenge is to keep our people motivated and engaged. This is the leader’s role, as defined by Napoleon Bonaparte: “To define reality, then give hope.” If you are an event or meeting manager, your staff needs you to give them a reason to believe. For sales executives and project managers, the pressure to perform is at an all time high. It’s really competitive out there, and every win counts.
In my experience, there’s only one way we can truly lead people through this crunch: give your performers real recognition. More than compensation, threats or even giving them the burning platform talk, effective recognition works. Human resource consultants Towers Watson conducted research that linked recognition to employee engagement, and then measured its bottom line impact on profits (a bump of almost six percent). One interesting finding: Employee engagement occurs when people have “broad and deep connections with an organization.” It’s not just a matter of increasing efforts or energy level, driving engagement requires motivating talent to show up and care about the results.
They isolated the two key ways an organization can drive engagement: give recognition and create opportunity. Moreover, researchers discovered the recognition that matters most isn’t formal (annual review) or from a high-ranking executive. It was most effective when delivered by a manager or a respected co-worker. You know, YOU.
In other words, recognition is not HR’s duty, delivered by a formal program. Berslin, another top-flight HR consultancy, found formal recognition programs are ineffective in a post-recession, overworked environment. They aren’t as credible as you are, being in the moment. The good news is that ad-hoc recognition is a dish served on a paper plate. No need to give a bonus or an award, just master what I call the “Three INGs of Real Recognition.”
Noticing: Each morning, instead of checking your email first thing, survey the previous work day to isolate at least one person who’s efforts made a difference. Think about their intention, their impact on a project or with a customer and what that means to you and the team. You’ll realize how engaged they are, and how much they care about the mission. Realize their challenges at work, and appreciate them as a person for being so thoughtful and effective. Never skip a workday.
I’ve been practicing this for a few years, and if you do it enough, you’ll turn up your noticing knob, because you’ll want to introduce new heroes at work into your morning routine. NOTE: Besides isolating a performer to recognize, this exercise is a great breakfast for your emotions, as you’ll realize you have a great deal of support and talent at work. This will give you confidence and empathy.
Expressing: William Arthur Ward once wrote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” So don’t keep your daily discoveries of greatness to your self. Don’t wait to deliver it during the annual review, when it will fade as a memory on both sides of the table. Thank or publicly recognize the performer as soon as possible.
The key to expressing, though, is to make it real and not just a throwaway thank you. An email, text or hallway attaboy isn’t real recognition. At Adobe, they award certificates of accomplishment, such as Trailblazer, often signed by the group. At Citibank, performers receive World-Of-Thanks circular cardboard recognition placards, also signed by co-workers. In their culture, a cubical with several of these is a point of honor. If you don’t have a program like that, you can sign a “Thank You” card or give a Starbucks card. Just do something real.
The last idea here is to be very specific when giving recognition. Identify the effort, its impact and what it means to you. Saying “you are doing a good job” is vague and doesn’t deliver a sense of accomplishment to your recipient. This will be much more believable and will give your recipient a feeling of self-worth.
Repeating: Recognition is not a one-and-done practice. Your top talents deliver over and over again, and you need to make sure you are there to notice and thank them for their consistency. Don’t worry that someone will get fat and happy, because true performers never get enough appreciation. You should be so lucky that you create a group of people that are over-loved by their leader.
The best way to be an artful recognizer is to repeat the praise about a performer to his co-workers or even senior management. That’s right, I’m telling you to talk behind your rock stars’ backs. Just like gossip, it will get back to them. And that’s when your recognition will really give them wings. To know their performance isn’t being kept a secret triggers the other key driver of engagement: creating opportunity.
In my experience, culture is a conversation, led by leaders about "how things are done around here." If you want to create a truly high performance culture at work, where people love their jobs and work in harmony, you need to make recognition a big part of your dialogue. Go against the grain. Manage by walking around, with the goal of catching your people doing something right—and making a big deal out of it. Tell them the Lovecat sent you. One+
One+ October 2012,