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Posted: April 14, 2011

You did a great job!

A little praise goes a long way

Sherry Law

When I returned to my seat after saying a few words at my 94-year-old Uncle Bob's memorial service, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked to my left and my cousin's grandson Kai, age 3, leaned into my face and with a big smile said, "You did a great job!" Since Kai lives 1,300 miles from me and hadn't seen me since he was 2, we are virtual strangers. Stifling giggles with my cousin, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if every CEO could communicate spontaneously like this little guy?"

Recognition and celebration are too often forgotten in today's lean-and-mean business environment. I'm not talking about formal reward programs, which are good and necessary but also generic and impersonal. I'm talking about informal, unrehearsed, from-the-heart communications that take less than a minute to bestow and cost nothing at all. Although all managers should be recognizing employees thoughtfully and regularly, we value praise most from the people we hold in the highest esteem-or in awe, like the CEO.

Spontaneous appreciation may be the only employee benefit that increases employee engagement, enhances recruitment and retains talent-at zero cost.

A little energy, a lot of value

When behaviors are modeled by the CEO and other leaders, they are emulated down the line. So if you want to create a culture of recognition, it should start at the top. While it may take concentration at first, expressing appreciation is an easy habit to acquire. And you may find that it makes you feel as good as the people you recognize.

What would it take one morning to surprise your assistant, who does the same routine things for you every day, with: "Thank you for reminding me about the day's appointments when I walk in every morning; you always keep me on track and I don't know what I'd do without you." Or, maybe something outside the ordinary would lead you to say: "Thank you for playing host to the person waiting for me; I was proud of the positive impression you made of our company with your friendliness and concern." You might even try appreciating people for ideas that didn't succeed, but took some extra effort.

Be spontaneous, sincere, and specific about what the employee did. If you add in how it made you feel, that's even better. Acknowledge in public or private, or in a hand-written note, but make your comments either on-the-spot or very soon after. You'll expend little energy while creating great value throughout your organization. You'll be astonished at how fast good news travels, especially if it's personal notice by the CEO.

Tie it to desired performance

If the ability to attract and retain the best talent isn't reason enough to establish a more appreciative culture, there's another hard core business benefit to spontaneous recognition. When you tie recognition to desired behaviors, you inspire employees to repeat those behaviors, and that increases overall performance. Author and recognition specialist Bob Nelson refers to this as "contingent" recognition.

Companies that bring in doughnuts on Fridays and give people cards on their birthdays create an entitlement culture, says Nelson. If you do "nice" things, people begin to expect them. But if you make recognition contingent upon a specific behavior or performance, they'll value the recognition more and you'll get better results as people repeat or copy that behavior. Just say, "Thank you."
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Sherry Law, Evergreen Communication, helps companies communicate effectively with employees, customers and other stakeholders. She can be reached at: sherry@evergreencommunication.com and 303-494-5326.

 

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Readers Respond

Sherry, BF Skinner the most renown of all behaviorists would love your article! (I'm a big fan of behaviorism!) I loved your sentence "Spontaneous appreciation may be the only employee benefit that increases employee engagement, enhances recruitment and retains talent-at zero cost." So true. The behaviorism principle here is, intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful form of reinforcement in building a behavior. In behavioral terms, "contingent recognition" is pure stimulus/response building of behaviors. Behaviorism lives on! By TC North on 2011 04 18
Great article!!SO TRUE!! By SFrench on 2011 04 18

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