Where Credit Is Due: Don't Hesitate to Give Employee Recognition Frequently And Publicly

In some companies, under the premise that they will be perceived more meaningful, rewards and recognitions are given so infrequently as to in fact be meaningless. In order to be effective in generating long-term, concrete results, such rewards, recognitions, and motivation must be given liberally, frequently, and publicly. They should be fun, uplifting, and encourage all members of the workplace.

A critical aspect of leadership is the manager's role as cheerleader. Leaders need to keep their employees motivated and emotionally prepared to do business in a marketplace fraught with intense competition, rejection, and failure.

There are both tangible and intangible aspects of motivation. The intangible aspects of encouraging words and pats on the back, although not insignificant, can be quickly forgotten, while the tangible aspects are visible and durable.

Napoleon discovered long ago that men would walk into combat and perform daring feats for a piece of ribbon and scrap of metal. Managers should learn from this lesson: it's not the value of a reward or recognition, but what that reward stands for. People will move mountains for the right reward.

The late Curtis Carlson, founder of Radisson Hotels, T.G.I. Friday's, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, and a host of other hospitality companies, was a master motivator. During an interview on CNN's Pinnacle years ago, he discussed the tangible aspects of motivation.

Carlson started his career as an employee for S&H Green Stamps, a company that used stamps as a retail incentive tool. In his capacity as an employee, Carlson achieved a specific sales goal and was awarded an engraved watch. He observed that everywhere he went his wife made him take off his self-described $20 watch so that she could display it to their friends. He took this lesson with him in his rise to the top of corporate America.

The lesson Carlson learned was the tangible value of motivation. He said that one could give an employee a $20 bonus on Friday, and by Monday it was spent and forgotten. But if one gave them a framed certificate or some other tangible form of recognition, it was there as a constant reminder of their accomplishments.

A very visible example of his practice is seen at T.G.I. Friday's. A tradition in the company is for the employees to sport colorful vests full of motivational pins from all of the restaurants they've worked at. Carlson was a skillful practitioner of tangible motivation: he knew the public display of recognition and accomplishment had an enduring effect long after the individual was honored.

Managers can take a page from the Carlson book and create their own tangible motivation program. As Carlson learned, the action doesn't have to be expensive, only tangible, frequent, visible, and durable.

People love to be recognized and honored. Most have a wall of items at home or in the office to show the world what they've achieved and accomplished. They want others to recognize that they have made a difference.

Many managers will use monetary awards or gifts as incentives - some to a great degree, such as Mary Kay Cosmetics, who awards their top employees pink Cadillacs.

As Carlson learned, money or a disposable gift such as food, a car wash, or a trip is quickly forgotten. Instead managers should consider ideas like certificates, pins, coffee cups, and other items that will be used and remain visible in the workplace as motivational tools. Some organizations have used items such as gold plated spark plugs as symbols of accomplishment.

Another key to tangible motivation is frequency. Carlson learned that to be effective, recognition must be as frequent and public as possible. Tom Peters discussed this concept in his book, Catching Someone Doing Something Right.

Too often, managers only identify the negative aspects of their employees' performance. Peters talks about turning this concept around by looking for and immediately recognizing the positives.

The final aspect of motivation is public recognition, which builds self-confidence and self-esteem while fostering team spirit and a strong sense of camaraderie.

There are many sides and aspects to motivation, but the fun and frivolous aspects of public and tangible motivation do work. Managers will be amazed at the amount of effort their employees will expend to earn a piece of paper or inexpensive knick-knack.


Contact Timothy Bednarz at timothy.bednarz@majorium.com, or 715-342-1018.

Published: March 27th, 2013

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