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Caught in the Act

Acknowledge your employees without turning them off.

March 20, 2001
Related Topics: Recognition

verybody likes to be acknowledged and appreciated for their efforts. Or dothey?

"This project was my baby for over a year. After allthe hours I invested, management had the nerve to pat me on the back and give mea cheap gold pen. How patronizing! I have news for them - I didn't do all thathard work for empty praise or a cheap prize. I did it because I'm the bestperson for the job. I wanted to see it happen and it did. This makes it feellike my accomplishments are ordinary. I didn't just fix the fax machine orsomething."

    Most companies have a formal way of acknowledging employees with suchthings as annual award banquets, top sales awards and certificates. There are acouple major pitfalls to these programs:

  1. The reward is handed down from management and reinforces imbalances inpower;

  2. It can be patronizing to receive a small award for a large accomplishment;

  3. The accomplishment is often a team effort. It fosters resentment when justone person gets the reward;

  4. It creates competition;

  5. The most common flaw of award programs is they often reward people fordoing work they were supposed to do anyway.

    The best form of acknowledgment is grounded in the idea that people workbecause they are committed and want to work. This assumes people work forreasons other than a paycheque at the end of the week or an award at the end ofa project. Many people do work for these external reasons but sometimes this isbecause the workplace encourages them to.

    Work and accomplishment is natural and should be treated as such. As AlfieKohn observes in Punished byRewards, "When responsible action, the naturallove of learning, and the desire to do good work are already part of who we are,then the tacit assumption to the contrary can be fairly described asdehumanizing."

A Culture of Appreciation
    How do you acknowledge others? To answer this, consider a company with anattitude of appreciation that is a routine part of every day. Everyone iscontinually appreciating everyone else. You don't have to be a manager toacknowledge someone else. Employees are aware of the specific projects or rolestheir colleagues are involved in and what their strengths are, and are on thelookout to catch people doing well.

    This culture assumes people are out to do their best and regularly noticesthem doing it. Sincere and genuine appreciation is forthcoming. Employees are attheir best because their standards of excellence are their own.

Keys to Better Performance
    How do you create this kind of a culture of appreciation?

    Avoid awards that set people apart from each other, such as programs forthe top sales person. Only one person can win this award, so only few will try.It also separates winners from losers. Instead have employees aim at beatingtheir own sales from the previous month;

  1. Let employees set their own goals, help them understand how it helps theteam and company, and acknowledge their contribution;

  2. Encourage employees to acknowledge others daily. Set up an informalnetwork, like a newsletter or bulletin board where people can brag about theircolleagues;

  3. Give employees the opportunity during meetings to talk about what theyaccomplished that week. In other words, let them brag about themselves;

  4. Recognize people for their strengths on more than specific projects orachievements. How does each individual's strength contribute to the team as awhole?

  5. Make every employee aware of other's strengths and give them a chance tolearn from one another;

  6. Continually recognize the achievements of the group as a whole. Savor thefeeling of achievement;

  7. Reinforce the value of the work itself. How employees function contributesto the community and their customers;

  8. Celebrate the vision of where the company is going and how the group, madeup of the individuals within it, is helping get there;

  9. Design incentives to award departments as a whole, where everyone isawarded for the group's accomplishments.

Bottom line
    Companies with an attitude of appreciation are proud of the achievements ofall employees and departments. They are aware of the strengths of eachindividual in helping realize the corporate vision. Communicating this vision istheir strong point. Acknowledging people this way can dramatically change theway people interact with each other and with customers.

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