In today’s environment of constant organization change and increased competition for talent, it’s imperative that Operations and HR leaders focus on efforts to inspire and engage their employee population and counterbalance the stress of everyday organizational life. One tried and true way to accomplish this is through employee recognition. Even if your organization doesn’t have a formal recognition program, the way you recognize and take care of your top performers has a strong impact on your culture and getting you the results you desire. I have found, through my research (a.k.a. my own time in a leadership position), that keeping three things in mind will help you be a Recognition Rockstar: Be Timely, Be Specific, and Be Aware.
A study by Gallup showed that employees who receive recognition for a job well done are more productive, stay longer with their organizations, receive high customer service scores, and even have fewer workplace injuries. So the good news is – the outcome of effective recognition is all upside for your organization. The even better news is – it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
Many theories of motivation and studies have shown that money is not the most effective way to increase employee motivation, engagement, commitment, or even retention. Money can keep your employees from being disengaged, but appealing to what Maslow called “higher order needs,” like esteem, gets you what money can’t buy.
So if it’s not money, then what is it? A genuine thank you from the direct manager or even a hand-written thank you card rank at the top of the list, but truly meaningful recognition depends on whom you are trying to recognize and how well you execute the recognition moment.
How many of us can remember what we did last week? More than likely, our employees are just like us. When it comes to recognition, timing is everything. It’s best to reinforce the behavior the moment someone does something deserving. As mentioned above, a quick thank you from their manager or a handwritten thank you note can go a long way in making an employee feel appreciated, but they are also quick ways to recognize and reinforce – so is a shout out during a team meeting or huddle.
Be specific about what the employee did that was deserving of recognition. I can’t tell you how many focus group participants have recalled getting a token of appreciation from their manager but had not idea why. This step is important because you want them to repeat it. It also helps others on your team, or in the organization, understand what the employee is being recognized for. This one action can lead to a spread of the desired behavior across your company. The ROI is in the repeat.
Be aware that as the individual’s manager, your opinion matters most. Another study by the Gallup showed that employees feel like their most meaningful appreciation came from their direct manager (28%)– more than their manager’s manager or even the CEO (24%). It’s also important to be aware of what’s important to the individual you are recognizing.
So I ask you…how well do you know the person you are going to recognize? Yes, I said person, not employee – that’s because recognition is personal and for it to be truly affective, it can’t be “one size fits all.”
I can remember a time when I was recognizing a very talented employee. I called him to my office, sat him down, and told him how much I appreciated his efforts and how it contributed to the organization and encouraged him to keep it up. Then I gave him pretty solid seats to a professional sporting event. He looked at me and told me he appreciated it, but he really didn’t like sports (he’d worked on my team for over 2 years at this point. I had no idea and this wasn’t the first time I’d give him tickets). He mentioned that he would rather do something related to the arts with his family. I could make that happen, but if I had been aware of this before attempting to recognize him, imagine how much more of an impact I could have had.
Tip: have every new employee fill out a form that lists a few of their favorite things, information on their family, and what they like to do in their spare time. You can reference this document when determining the type of recognition to give.
In summary, recognition is one way to get the level of performance and commitment you desire from your employees and the good news is it doesn’t take a lot of time and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Just remember: Be Timely, Be Specific, and Be Aware.