Acording to Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick, despite mounting evidence that employee recognition creates more productive, profitable teams, our trainers work with managers every week who have a bevy of excuses for why they don’t. The managers don’t have time to recognize, or they are afraid of creating favorites on their teams, or they simply don’t know where to begin.
In our research and writing over the years, we’ve tried to dispel the most frequent dark-side myths of recognition we hear from managers. In this column, we briefly address just three, beginning with a common phobia to recognition: that too much will spoil employees.
“It’ll lose meaning if I recognize too much.”
Yeah, and if you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way. When was the last time anyone at your workplace said, “Man, this place gives too much recognition! Enough with the praise and awards already, they are killing my productivity.” Our guess is, let’s see … never! Recognition doesn’t get old if it is done right—which means we do it Now, do it Often, we are Specific and Sincere. Does anyone ever tire of a manager saying, “Thank you. You make an impact and add value and here’s how…?” So please keep trying.
Here’s one example: After we spoke in Las Vegas recently to a group of managers from a water conditioning company, one leader told us that when his people hit their annual safety goal—making so many deliveries without accident or injury—they get to be boss for the day, sit in the air conditioned office and answer the phone. Meanwhile, the general manager makes their deliveries that day. And in Las Vegas, when you make deliveries in 120-degree heat, that means a lot. His employees would walk through fire for their manager because he’s found a way to recognize them in a way that’s meaningful. And that leader walks through the hot-as-fire desert for them.
So, the answer: No, it doesn’t lose meaning if done right.
“I don’t have the time.”
What did your mother always tell you? You make time to do the things that are important. Great managers who want to inspire their team and show real appreciationf ind the time. It doesn’t take long. the effective managers we’ve met rarely spend more than an hour or two a week recognizing their people—that’s only 2 to 4 percent of a leader’s week—but the results are remarkable. After all, how much time do you need to write a thank-you note, present a formal award, or say “thanks!” in a specific manner?
Ed Zobeck, former vice president of the 6,000-person Auto Club Group, became a believer in what he calls the “Power of the Thank You.” When we met Ed a few years ago, we left him with a thank-you “checkbook” out of one of our manager’s recognition toolkits. Explained Ed, “I went back to my office and was reading through some really good work that one of our lawyers had done for me on a particularly vexing issue. I jotted out a quick thank you check to him and dropped it in the interoffice mail.” The result? The lawyer was in near tears when he received the note of specific thanks.
“Culturally we had gotten away from the simple ‘Power of the Thank You’ that is timely and specific. So, I make it a point whenever I can to stop myself and stop whomever it is I want to thank, look them in the eye, and thank them very specifically for what they’ve done. Better yet, if they’re with a group of people I try to do it with others around. We call it a staff huddle.”
Bottom line: Good leaders find the time for the soft stuff and it makes all the difference.
“My people get recognition every two weeks in their paychecks.”
While you’re correct that money is why we show up for work each day, cash doesn’t create passion, quality or innovation once we are there. We need money, but we crave recognition. In fact research shows the keys to employee engagement are recognition and involvement. Said Buckingham and Coffman in First, Break All the Rules, “If you are paying twenty percent below the market average, then you may have difficulty attracting people. But bringing your pay and benefits package up to market levels, while a sensible first step, will not take you very far. These kinds of issues are like tickets to the ball-park—they can get you into the game, but they can’t help you win.”
The good news is this: The great leaders we meet with have learned to rise above their collective phobias and are building cultures where people come, stay and contribute because they feel valued and appreciated. Some of these effective managers acknowledge that it isn’t always easy to recognize; others admit they have made mistakes along the way. But the best managers stick with it. And because of that persistence, they have seen real business results.
It’s easy to make excuses. But excuses, even when valid, are never impressive. Great leaders find the time to appreciate, they recognize their people frequently and specifically, and more often than not, they engender greater commitment from their teams.
We’d love to read some of the best ways you’ve been recognized in your careers.
THE AUTHOR: Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick are the New York Times bestselling authors of The Carrot Principle, All In and What Motivates Me. They are also co-founders of The Culture Works, an innovator in employee engagement and leadership training solutions.
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