In West Africa, I was enjoying working with and facilitating a workshop for a group of managers from a media company – having rigorous discussions about the topic ‘leadership style’. Many contended that “in that part of the world”, the only way to get things done to certain prescribed quality levels was to shout – in other words, exercise an authoritarian approach to leadership. Many concurred and emphasised that employees take advantage of those in leadership who do not show some form of aggression or power. I then asked the group to provide an example of a senior manager that they respected who was motivational in his/her approach – non-threatening, caring, but firm. They immediately referred to a former leader and divisional head (she was no longer with the company) that had these characteristics embedded in her personality. I asked: “What made her different?” They responded: “She cared, recognised good work, showed appreciation, but most of all, she listened”. Recognition of employees, as well as the managers that reported in to her, as important colleagues made all the difference.

In the research done by Dr Gerald Graham of Wichita State University, the top five motivating techniques reported by employees are the following:

  1. The manager personally congratulates employees who do a good job
  2. The manager writes personal notes about good performance
  3. The organisation uses performance as the basis for promotion
  4. The manager publicly recognises employees for good performance
  5. The manager holds morale-building meetings to celebrate success

Perhaps the above research findings align exactly with what philosopher and psychologist, William James, said: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated”. This craving within the human being in a work context can be realised if managers adhere to the following recognition tenets:

  1. Find things going right rather than things going wrong – celebrate things going radically right. Address any negatives, but don’t get bogged down by them, otherwise successes may be overlooked.
  2. Recognition should be transparent and publicised – public praise becomes especially meaningful and impactful for the achiever and sets the example for others to follow.
  3. Recognition should be sincere always – avoid providing recognition that is too “slick” or overproduced.
  4. Design recognition and rewards for uniqueness – appropriately tailored to the unique needs of employees where possible.
  5. Offer recognition from a timing perspective as close as possible to the excellent performance – timing is important. Recognition loses its impact after some time has passed.
  6. Create clear connections between the performance (and subsequent value to the organisation) and rewards – these connections should be unambiguous and well-communicated so that all understand the criteria used to determine awards.
  7. Reward internal service excellence as well as superior service to customers – the employees who do not have direct contact with customers also offer remarkable service at times to those who interface with customers on a daily basis. This needs to be recognised.
  8. Recognise ‘small’ as well as ‘big’ performance – this reinforces behaviour that is going to make a shift in the way that the company goes about its business.
  9. Recognise teams too – it’s not just individuals who perform well, but teams achieving also need to be rewarded.
  10. Recognition should be focused on performance from both the company and customer perspective – where employees show understanding, not just of manager expectations, but also of customer expectations and meet their needs exactly.

Motivation germinates in a recognition environment. Frederick B Harris noted: “There is no verbal vitamin more potent than praise”. Motivation does not come from a motivational speaker, inspiration does. Motivation is cultivated in a context where performance achievement and exceptional customer service is rewarded.

Free To Grow specialises in employee engagement consulting and workshops (www.freetogrow.com)