Does acknowledging your employees compel them to explore their potential further or is it more of a mindless clacking of cliche expressions? Is your recognition program a superficial ploy encroaching on your staff’s need to be candidly recognized and inspired? Don’t be disheartened because many organizations suffer the same twisted fate. Employee morale boosters hinge on how well leaders recognize staff. Everybody likes to be appreciated for their efforts, but only if they are rewarded and acknowledged in a way that is genuine.
Include employees’ say in the way you salute their efforts. Most companies have a formal way of acknowledging employees with annual award banquets, including keynote speakers with motivational speeches, top sales awards and certificates. If your award program doesn’t invite a thunderous reception, it may be because it's too generic and not an inspiration.
COMMON PITFALLS TO LEADERSHIP AWARD PROGRAMS
There are some major pitfalls to generic leadership award programs:
- The reward is handed down from leadership and reinforces imbalances in power.
- It can be patronizing to receive a small award for a large accomplishment.
- The leadership recognition program falters because the accomplishment is often a team effort. It fosters resentment when just one person gets the reward.
- They cause competition and conflict.
- The reward usually occurs annually or semi-annually,thereby greatly postponing inspiration and recognition for superior daily performance.
- Salary raises are nice, but seldom motivate people to consistently achieve on the job.
- Top performers are often the same people every month. A formal award system may become a program that neglects secondary achievements. How is this helping the rest of your staff? You may be causing resentment, conflict. Formal award nights with humorous keynote speakers may not speak to the heart of recognition for the whole team.
- The most common flaw of leadership award programs is that they often reward people for doing work they were supposed to do anyway. It creates entitlement.
Why are formal award systems so popular as a leadership strategy then? The main advantage to formal awards is that they are easy to administer. All you need to do is calculate how close (or how far) people get to their goal, find the “top achievers” and acknowledge them with your standard reward.
This advantage is also the major disadvantage. Formal awards are a “mass acknowledgment” program. They can be very impersonal and don’t take into account the strengths, accomplishments or efforts of individuals. They don’t take into account employees’ say.
Formal award systems recognize one narrow aspect of the job (such as increased revenue, morale, sales or productivity) and those few employees who are good at achieving that goal. By contrast, informal recognition programs focus on spontaneous and personal appreciation of employee efforts.
THE ART OF APPRECIATING OTHERS
Appreciating others is a brilliant and creative act. Leadership strategy needs to notice and nurture consistent acts of achievement. Yet many leaders don’t consider showing appreciation a part of their leadership skills. Other leaders realize that acknowledgment is important, but they botch the process. Spouting hollow praise too often will bring discouraging results.
There is an art to showing appreciation for others. Employees won’t be impressed by trite and generic compliments. Most leadership could use a bit of practice with thoughtful acknowledgments. Possibly a leadership seminar or workshop with a motivational talk to practice the keys to a good acknowledgement. According to B.F. Skinner, a good acknowledgment has four qualities. It is consistently:
- Specific: Talk very specifically about what you saw the person do. General motivational clichés like “good team player” will have a lukewarm effect.
- Immediate: Obviously praising someone for something she did nearly a year ago is a waste of time because the best acknowledgment is immediate. “Catch” someone in the act of doing well and compliment the behavior on the spot.
- Personal: Use the person’s name and talk about the qualities they bring to the team.
- Spontaneous: Never script compliments or they won’t sound sincere.
I would add to this always link individual performance to the overall good of the group. Here is an example: “Mike, congratulations on how you handled that difficult patient just now. He was nasty and not about to give up, but you sympathized, calmed him down and set him straight.” This acknowledgment is specific, immediate, personal, and spontaneous.
Next, link individual performance to the good of the group. “Your taking the time to explain things to that patient builds understanding and agreement and makes that patient so much easier for the rest of the team to deal with.”
According to a study done by Robert Half International Limited, a lack of praise and recognition is one of the primary reasons why employees leave their jobs.
Acknowledgment doesn’t have to come from a leader. Train and encourage all employees to recognize each other. Train in the four steps above and have employees role-play to acknowledge one another. Create a culture of appreciation (see below) where employees regularly recognize each other’s contributions.
Rewards That Increase Say and Engage Employees
Increasing the say factor in your organization means increasing employee input to their jobs. Leadership motivational speeches should reward people individually and in a personalized way for their accomplishments instead of generally addressing the whole group for its performance level. Take time to find out what specifically motivates each of your employees and then see what you can do to make those things happen. How do you find out what motivates others? Ask them.
Increase the say factor in the job by getting people talking about what inspires and motivates them and engage them in the reward process. When people get rewarded in the way they want, they will be much more satisfied. Involvement equals commitment. The best management is what you do with others, not to them.
FOUR STEPS TO CREATING A PERSONALIZED REWARDS SYSTEM
- Create an acknowledgment committee. This is a fun volunteer position and it should rotate regularly, so all staff have an opportunity to participate. The acknowledgment committee is responsible for acknowledging other staff members weekly.
- Have the acknowledgment committee create a form that helps them get to know employees. Ask employees things like, “Share your favorite color, your biggest pet peeve, something interesting about your family, your hobbies...” Anything unique about a person that they would offer to share is valuable.
- File these forms away and every week (or month or however often) the committee randomly draws an employee’s name and checks the list to find interesting unique ways to acknowledge him. (e.g. Jason loves telling jokes so buy him a joke book). The “reward” is fun and does not cost a lot (usually under $10).
- The committee now has to catch Jason in the act of doing well and acknowledges him with the personalized item. You may even create a fun ritual, motivational talk,chant or saying when delivering acknowledgments.
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During a leadership workshop we discussed how leadership spends too much time planning for fun instead of actually having it.