Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t hurt budget

Training managers to show consistent gratitude pays dividends in era of instability
By Diana Arbutina
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/09/2011

Few can deny decreased employee engagement leads to declining business performance and as the North American economy works to climb out of the shadows of the recession, the importance of a motivated, engaged workforce can’t be overstated.

While the business world may be living under a cloud of stress and anxiety, appreciation of employees could be the catalyst needed.

“We’ve always had a policy of trying to put our staff first. The staff should come first, the customers second and your shareholders third. If you take that approach, you’ll find that everyone wins. Happy staff results in happy customers, lots of happy customers result in happy shareholders,” said Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group in a 2001 article in The Independent.

While organizations may say they can’t afford to implement large-scale employee programs or monetary reinforcement practices for a job well done, leaders must understand a simple thank you and appreciation of employees doesn’t necessarily require a monetary value. What it may do, however, is capture the hearts and the minds of employees. Effective recognition and appreciation is about taking the time, and making a cognizant effort, to appreciate employees. In an era of transition, instability and uncertainty, thanking employees is the ultimate low-cost strategy.

Motivated employees are a key ingredient to a company’s success. Organizations can spend millions of dollars trumpeting exceptional customer service, but if front-line sales associates are incompetent, that’s money misspent.

The statistics speak volumes: A company with highly engaged employees achieves a financial performance four times greater than companies with poor engagement, according to a Watson Wyatt study of 115 companies. The highly engaged are more than twice as likely to be top performers — almost 60 per cent of them exceed or far exceed performance expectations.

When employees are motivated and appreciated, they are driven to provide better service or work, thereby increasing their overall effectiveness and level of service. On the surface, recognizing and appreciating employees seems like a soft benefit but, ultimately, it leads to hard dollar returns.

Fortunately, the act of thanking somebody has more value than managers often think. Employees put a high price tag on appreciation. People need to feel appreciated and know their work matters. While a customized rewards and recognition program can be beneficial, a simple recognition strategy can also do wonders. Recognition should start with the fundamentals of a simple thank you.

Keeping staff motivated is the essence of employee engagement, yet it’s the most commonly missed step. Why is this so often overlooked? Amongst the common reasons — lack of time, resources and desire — is a lack of training. Many people do not know how to give thanks, especially in a work environment.

Training is even more significant for leaders and managers because they are a key asset in driving an organization’s objectives by ensuring staff are motivated and engaged in what they do. Supplying managers with the right tools is crucial since some are better than others in expressing appreciation. It’s vital to provide effective training to all levels of management to ensure they are leaders in appreciation and employees can then emulate those key behaviours.

Managers need to understand why recognition is more than just praise or reward. It’s a way of motivating employees by endorsing their high-quality performance. Recognition supports self-esteem and helps employees learn which skills and behaviours are valued by the organization, making them more efficient.

Finding more reasons to thank employees is crucial. Achieving major milestones, suggesting innovations, bringing new clients on board, reducing losses, outperforming goals, increasing efficiencies and taking initiative are the kinds of behaviours managers should be keenly looking to recognize and applaud.

It’s also important the thank you is consistent, transparent and aligned to the goals of the organization. Ensure employees feel they are a part of the company’s success.

Spread the word with employees. An effective recognition program starts with three simple components: a recognition strategy, a way to link the strategy to the organizational goals and day-to-day recognition. The recognition strategy should ensure the organization promotes acknowledgment at all levels and is fully documented.

It all starts with effective communication. Senior management need to define their recognition policy and overall strategy, including their commitment to recognition. It’s necessary to identify individuals who should be involved in leading the recognition and ensure the organization has various methods for developing managers and employees at all levels. They should follow the principles of effective recognition and document the objectives and development of the training.

Linking the strategy to organizational goals can be achieved by ensuring each element of the program focuses on identifying employee behaviours that advance the organization’s goals, visions and values, and reinforces these behaviours. A carefully crafted and documented recognition policy with defined processes and criteria can set a new standard with employees.

When implementing recognition programs and putting them into action, consider having a three-dimensional approach to recognition and reward that promotes day-to-day, informal and formal recognition and reward. This may consist of intangible recognition, commemoration or eligibility for awards or celebrations to recognize behaviours that support organizational goals and values. This can include thank-you notes or e-forms employees give to one another. Ensure management is aware of employees’ achievements and instant gratification is provided with consistent gratitude. Praise employees for a job well done.

Try to take a moment in your day to thank the people who contribute to your success and engrain that thought into your culture. By doing so, even the worst situation may be placed in a better context and offer a more positive perspective.

Diana Arbutina is senior director of client strategy at Carlson Marketing in Mississauga, Ont. She can be reached at (905) 214-8444 or darbutina@carlsonmarketing.ca.

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