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1001 Ways to Reward Employeesby Bob Nelson
In my doctoral research on why managers use or don’t use recognition with their employees, I found the top variable distinguishing those managers who use recognition was that they felt it was their responsibility—not corporate’s or human resources’—to create the motivational environment for their people. They truly believed that recognizing their deserving employees played an integral part in how those workers felt about their jobs.
This finding coincides with what my research shows are the most important ways that employees prefer to be recognized when they do good work—that is, simple day-to-day behaviors that any manager can express with their employees, the most important of which is praise. The best praise is done soon, specifically, sincerely, personally, positively, and proactively. In a matter of seconds, a simple praise conveys, “I saw what you did, I appreciate it, here’s why it’s important, and here’s how it makes me feel”—a lot of punch in a small package!
Four out of the top ten categories of motivators reported by employees in my research are forms of praise, and these categories make up the four chapters in Part I: personal praise, written praise, electronic praise, and public praise. Now, you might say, “Are these really different types of praise? Don’t they all have the same effect?” This was my initial thought, too, but I learned that these types of praise are in fact distinct from one another. Praising someone in person means something different to that person than writing him or her a note, and these forms of praise are both different from praising the person in public. To get the maximum impact out of this simple behavior, vary the forms you use, and use them all frequently.
Research by Dr. Gerald Graham of Wichita State University supports these observations. In multiple studies, he found that employees preferred personalized, instant recognition from their direct supervisors more than any other kind of motivation. In fact, in another survey of American workers, 63 percent of the respondents ranked “a pat on the back” as a meaningful incentive.
In Graham’s studies, employees perceived that manager-initiated rewards for performance were done least often, and that company-initiated rewards for presence (that is, rewards based simply on being in the organization) occurred most often. Dr. Graham concluded, “It appears that the techniques that have the greatest motivational impact are practiced the least, even though they are easier and less expensive to use.” Graham’s study determined the top five motivating techniques reported by employees to be:
1. The manager personally congratulates employees who do a good job.
2. The manager writes personal notes about good performance.
3. The organization uses performance as the basis for promotion.
4. The manager publicly recognizes employees for good performance.
5. The manager holds morale-building meetings to celebrate success.
Ideally, you should vary the ways you recognize your staff while still trying to do things on a day-to-day basis. For example, Robin Horder-Koop, manager of programs and services at Amway Corporation, the distributor of house and personal-care products and other goods in Ada, MI, uses these inexpensive ways to recognize the 200 people who work for her on a day-to-day basis:
According to author and management consultant Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “Recognition—saying thank you in public and perhaps giving a tangible gift along with the words—has multiple functions beyond simple human courtesy. To the employee, recognition signifies that someone noticed and someone cares. To the rest of the organization, recognition creates role models—heroes—and communicates the standards, saying: ‘These are the kinds of things that constitute great performance around here.’” Following are some guidelines Kanter offers for successfully recognizing employees:
Principle 1: Emphasize success rather than failure. You tend to miss the positives if you are busily searching for the negatives.
Principle 2: Deliver recognition and reward in an open and publicized way. If not made public, recognition loses much of its impact and much of the purpose for which it is provided.
Principle 3: Deliver recognition in a personal and honest manner. Avoid providing recognition that is too “slick” or overproduced.
Principle 4: Tailor your recognition and reward to the unique needs of the people involved. Having many recognition and reward options will enable management to acknowledge accomplishment in ways appropriate to the particulars of a given situation.
Principle 5: Timing is crucial. Recognize contribution throughout a project. Reward contribution close to the time an achievement is realized. Time delays weaken the impact of most rewards.
Principle 6: Strive for a clear, unambiguous, and well-communicated connection between accomplishments and rewards. Be sure people understand why they receive awards and the criteria used to determine awards.
Principle 7: Recognize recognition. That is, recognize people who recognize others for doing what is best for the company.
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