All motivation starts with the person you’re trying to motivate. What do they want? What do they like? How do they prefer to be thanked, praised, and recognized when they do good work?
As essential as this is, I’ve found very few companies take the time to ask their employees these questions! It’s easy to assume the answers: “They want more money, more benefits, and more promotions” is a typical response from companies when I bring up the topic. “That’s where we are spending most of our human resources budget, so it must be what employees most want.” Oh, really?
I’ve shared my expertise thousands of times through presentations and webinars across the U.S. and worldwide on the topic of employee appreciation. Often, I open with a simple exercise where I have attendees turn to their neighbor and tell them about a recent time they felt valued and appreciated in their job – that is, made to feel special for something they did and, as a consequence, were more excited about coming to work. After a few minutes, I ask volunteers to report what they shared, and the topics of money, benefits, and promotions rarely come up.
What gets recognized gets repeated
What is commonly shared are personal forms of thanks from someone the person holds in high esteem in the workplace: Their immediate manager, a colleague or co-worker, an upper manager, and perhaps a client that took the time to sincerely thank the employee for a job well done. Simply put, someone makes them feel appreciated.
The most reported forms of thanks tend to be simple forms of appreciation such as showing praise, a written thank-you note (email, a card or letter, or a text), or public praise and recognition in front of their team. “What gets recognized, gets repeated” is a simple axiom of appreciation in any relationship; doing so also happens to be the biggest driver of performance known to humankind. Often called the Greatest Management Secret in the World is a simple notion that “You get what you recognize & reward.”
The power of mementos and gifts
Whereas the foundation for employee appreciation is behavioral, it can be easy to build on that foundation with a thoughtful gift or memento that serves as a reminder of the employee’s excellent work; Something for themselves, or something they can share with others that they care about. (And allowing them choice in what they receive increases the motivational value of the gift!)
Providing such a gift or memento offers an added benefit of repeated appreciation. Whenever the person uses the item or shares the gift with others, it rekindles the pride and excitement in their work and the bond they enjoy with their manager and other workers.
Feedback is a two-way street
Most organizations periodically collect some information from their teams through an annual or bi-annual employee survey. If your company does this, be sure to ask employees if they feel valued for their work and if they receive recognition in their jobs from others. This could also be done as a shorter Pulse Survey or in a little more depth with one or more focus group discussions.
Once you have collected and prioritized employee responses, take that shared information seriously and plan to start providing what employees said they most wanted. Then, respond to the desired behavior and performance you most need from them to better drive its mission, strategic objectives, and core values.
If you do this, you will be well on your way to building a culture of appreciation and becoming an “Employer of Choice” in which every employee feels special for their work and, as a result, does their best work and stays working longer for the company. After all, if you love what you do and those around you love you for doing it, why would you ever consider leaving?
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Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is the leading advocate for employee recognition and engagement worldwide, president of Nelson Motivation Inc. (www.drbobnelson.com), and a founder of Recognition Professionals International. His books have sold over 5 million copies and, in additional to 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees, include The 1,001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees, and 1,001 Ways to Energize Employees. He frequently presents for management teams, conferences, and associations about strategies for better motivating today’s employees. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (858) 218-5049.