More rules for high impact recognition

Here’s some thoughts on how recognition can be inexpensive and fun, as well as the importance of career development opportunities.

Things that are the most motivating to employees tend to be relatively easy to do and cost the least

Personally recognizing employees’ accomplishments can be easy to do as well. In a study of potential workplace motivators by Gerald Graham, professor of management at Wichita State University, three of the top five incentives ranked by employees had no cost, even though they were seldom done by employees’ managers: (1) a personal thank you from one’s manager for a job well done; (2) a written thank you from one’s manager for a job well done; and (3) public praise. When these forms of recognition are done in a timely, sincere and specific manner, employees feel valued and appreciated.

Most companies also overlook the power and possibilities of no-cost recognition and rewards. Many of the following methods can also be done within the context of most every job in the workplace.

Interesting and important work: Everyone should have at least part of their job be of interest to them. Find out what tasks employees most enjoy and use that information in future work assignments.

Although OurTown Television Productions of Saratoga Springs, N.Y, wasn’t able to offer its employees the same high salaries as its competition, it did offer its employees jobs custom-tailored to the individual tastes of each worker. The company’s story co-ordinator is also the staff welder because he told one of OurTown’s founders that he loved welding.

Information, communication, and feedback on performance: Information is power, and employees want to be empowered with the information they need to know to do their jobs better and more effectively. Employees want to know how they are doing in their jobs and how the company is doing in its business.

The Michigan Retailers’ Association threw a series of catered staff breakfasts on the Friday morning following each of five board of directors’ meetings. The breakfasts were used to share information and update staff on major policy actions and organizational developments.

Open the channels of communication to allow employees to be informed, ask questions, and share information.

Involvement and ownership in decisions: Involving employees, especially in decisions that affect them, is both respectful to them and practical. People closest to a problem or customer typically have the best insight as to how to improve a situation. Involving employees increases their commitment and the ease with which HR can implement new ideas or change.

Owner Katherine Barchetti assigns each of the salespeople at her self-named clothing stores in Pittsburgh, Penn., the responsibility for particular items of merchandise. Salespeople are granted authority to fully manage the product line that they have been assigned including buying, maintaining inventory, marketing and selling it.

Independence, autonomy, and flexibility: Most employees value being given room to do their job as they best see fit. All employees appreciate flexibility in their jobs. Giving people latitude increases the chance that they will perform as desired, and bring additional initiative, ideas and energy to their jobs.

Employees at Meredith Publishing in Des Moines, Iowa, must work the “core hours” between 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. However, they are allowed to set their own starting and ending schedules as long as they adhere to the core hour requirement. This allows workers to arrive as early as 6:00 A.M. or as late as 10:00 A.M., and to leave as early as 3:00 P.M. or as late as 6:00 P.M.

Increased opportunity for learning, growth, and responsibility: Everyone appreciates getting credit when it is due. Occasions to share the successes of employees with others are almost limitless. Giving employees new opportunities to perform, learn and grow as a form of recognition and thanks is highly motivating for most people.

Management at American Honda Motor Co. in Marysville, Ohio, create energizing opportunities for employees by assigning them high-risk, high-reward projects. Developing new car models includes trips to Japan, new technology, short timelines and lots of visibility.

Fun, simple and creative rewards work best

More often than not, fun and simple ideas are not used in many businesses that view their use as inappropriate — somehow undermining the seriousness or credibility of the business.

By contrast, it is often the fun aspects of a celebration that make recognition a positive and motivating experience. The simpler and more creative the better.

A Hewlett-Packard engineer burst into his manager’s office in Palo Alto, Calif., to announce he’d just found the solution to a problem the group had been struggling with for many weeks. His manager quickly groped around his desk for some item to acknowledge the accomplishment and ended up handing the employee a banana from his lunch with the words, “Well done. Congratulations!” Initially, the employee was puzzled, but over time the Golden Banana Award became one of the most prestigious honours bestowed on an inventive employee in that division.

Meaningful recognition can truly be created out of thin air.

The more employees are helped to develop marketable skills, the more likely they are to stay with an organization

The very definition of marketable skills implies that those who have them can be paid more in the market. Yet, I’m convinced that as a firm makes it a priority to help employees learn and grow, they are more likely to want to stay because they know they are in a special place. When HR makes it clear that it has employees best interests at heart, the payback from staff is tenfold.

Management at Novartis (formerly Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corporation) based in Basel, Switzerland, lets its employees know that it does not consider them disloyal for considering career paths that lead outside the company. Novartis believes that offering employees ways to enhance their future employability alleviates the anxiety connected with losing a job and demonstrates that the company truly cares about them as people.

Skill development is especially motivational for today’s younger “Generation X” workforce. This generation constantly wants to learn new skills, both to keep the job exciting and challenging as well as to increase their marketability.

Bob Nelson is president of Nelson Motivation, Inc., located in San Diego. A well-known recognition speaker and author, he can be reached at (858) 673-0690, [email protected] or visit

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