I was recently having a conversation with a business owner and we of course got on the topic of employee engagement, performance, and hitting goals. What I found particularly interesting was when I asked him how he was showing recognition or appreciation to his team, I discovered he believed that he shouldn’t have to give recognition unless an employee hit a major goal or individual benchmark.
Because in his eyes it was the employees’ job to hit baselines and perform in accordance with his expectations—basically, his employees need to do what they’re paid to do without him having to “cheerlead”.
I get that, but here’s the thing: Great leaders understand the power of people.
People are a company’s greatest asset. In fact, this is where the business invests the most money. And if you’re going to consider people as your greatest asset, then you’ve got to remember that people are complex and come with this thing called emotion.
And while I, and I’m sure almost any business owner can sympathize with what he was feeling, what’s missing here is true LEADERSHIP.
If you want higher productivity and team engagement then you’ve got to consider that employees aren’t robots, they’re people.
Part of the human experience is the need for appreciation & validation. And as a leader, it’s your job to make sure that you are reinforcing the behaviors that will help them and the company succeed.
Recognition is Powerful
I want you to consider moments in your life, even if brief or weaved into the fabric of your day, where you experienced that spark from being appreciated and recognized.
Maybe it’s a moment when you drop your kid off at school, and if they thank you for the ride, hug you, say they love you and then rush off to class how good that makes you feel.
Or maybe think about when you help a friend move into a new home and they tell you how much they appreciate you & are so thankful to have you in their life how your heart swells with pride.
Perhaps you can remember a time when your spouse recognized all the hard work you do and how much they appreciated you. Didn’t that put a smile on your face and make you feel warm & fuzzy?
There are countless examples that you’ve likely experienced when someone was grateful for you. And if you’re being honest, don’t you typically want to do more for the people who show you how much they appreciate you?
Of course! That’s part of being an emotionally well-adjusted human being. When people appreciate you, you do more than what is expected of you.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Even if you don’t want to draw on your own personal experiences, there are a multitude of studies that show how important recognition is to a business. In one study when employees were asked what their leaders could do to improve engagement, 52% said, “give recognition”. And 55% of the employees cite that a lack of recognition or negative company culture as a reason for leaving.
An additional study showed that 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated.
And another one stating that 57% are starved of recognition and only receive it monthly (or worse, less-frequent).
In a multitude of studies and reports, more than half of surveyed employees are saying that recognition is significantly correlated to retention, engagement, and work effort.
Given the facts, what kind of business owner (or leader) knows that and still says, “Nah. I think I’ll withhold recognition or only give it when a benchmark is hit.”?!
I genuinely hope that’s not you.
Because recognition is a simple and powerful way to:
- Increase employee engagement
- Improve productivity
- Positively impact your customer service
- Retain your employees
While it’s true that giving recognition won’t be a fix-all, it will however, move the needle in the right direction. And the numbers on the subject don’t lie.
What Recognition Is and What It’s Not
Back to the business owner from the beginning, aside from needing to take a leadership stance, he also perhaps was confusing rewards with recognition.
This is actually quite common.
If someone is rewarding monetarily, then it’s understandable as to why recognition might make them feel resistance—who really wants to keep forking out more money just to get employees to do things? Particularly, when that’s what they’re already being paid to do.
So let’s be clear: Recognition is not reward. It is noticing a job well-done & then communicating that awareness.
Don’t get me wrong, rewards have their place. For instance, a reward when monetary company goals are hit can be a big motivator but it’s place is not to be officially tied to recognition. When you always combine the two you’re likely to experience the reward becoming an expectation for the behavior, an entitlement, and the intrinsic motivation to perform decreases (known as The Overjustification Effect in social psychology).
Further, in a report released by McKinsey & Company, monetary rewards aren’t even the biggest motivator. 83% of respondents said recognition was more fulfilling than a gift/reward.
Rather than teaching your employees to expect rewards, reinforce good behaviors by making recognition part of the fabric of your company culture.
How To Give Recognition & Fuse It to Your Company Culture
Strategy is necessary when recognizing employees. While I don’t personally believe that there really is such a thing as too much recognition, I think the you can end up on the wrong side of the line when giving recognition if it isn’t genuine, the reason for it is unclear, and it’s disproportionate.
Here’s 4 Principles to Give Recognition the right way:
Always Tie It to Context & Culture
Sure, the occasional “Hey, thanks for being you.” could prove to be temporarily motivational but that’s not a very good long-term strategy. Instead, be sure that you’re telling the person why you appreciate their effort by directly tying their action to the company values. Example: “Thank you, Jane, for going the extra mile to keep our patient happy. As you know, one of our core values is being a patient-centric office and this patient is one of our biggest referral sources, so your actions really mean a lot.”
Make it Authentic vs. Automated
Don’t give false praise. This one is that simple. Your team knows when it’s forced or being done robotically. So make it real, and make it genuine.
Give It Regularly & In Real-Time
When you observe good behavior say something about it right then and there! If exceptional customer service is one of your core values, and you happen to witness someone really displaying that (whether it be consistent behavior over time or a specific event that happened that day) say something to them! It’s even better if you can give the praise in front of another team member as that will reinforce the behavior. According to Gallup, recognition needs to be given at least once a week since it’s an ongoing process. Don’t wait for a quarterly review to roll around. Get into the habit of showing gratitude weekly and even daily.
Everyone Benefits From Recognition
If you have a star-player you may unintentionally be recognizing their efforts alone. While a little competition can actually increase productivity, be careful not to only give praise to the high performers. Remember, recognition is a tool to boost engagement so why not use it on the team members who could benefit from it the most? So what behaviors are there that need to be reinforced? (Side note: if you feel there’s nothing to recognize for a specific individual, then 1. Are you doing a good job at being a leader and developing that person? Or 2. Then why are they even on the team?)
Making it a Part of Your Company Culture
If you follow me on social media or are in The Growth Effect Masterminds Facebook group then you’ve heard this before, but this needs to be the mantra of every leader: Define. Model. Measure.
As the business owner, CEO, or lead dentists you’ve got to get your leadership team on-board with giving recognition. Make sure that they know exactly what it looks like. Define it. Train your leaders on it. Teach them and the team about gratitude.
The next thing is modeling the behavior. Yes, that means that you, and the leadership team, must set the example. Find & ask for innovative ways to encourage the team to recognize and show gratitude to each other. Studies show that peer to peer recognition is even more powerful than just the leadership team giving out praise. When you’ve got the entire team doing this, then you know that you’ve successfully created a company culture around recognition.
Lastly, measure it. You can look at company stats like your employee retention rate, productivity rate, customer satisfaction ratings, and the individual team member engagement ratings. How does your company stack up? Where is there an opportunity to improve?
And while it might be easy to point a finger and say, “that person is not engaged”, the first question a leader really needs to ask is: Am I doing a good job at developing this employee? Use a scorecard that measures what date you gave recognition and what for; ensure that you are indeed living up to your responsibility before you consider something more extreme like removing them from the team.
Ideas For Recognition
Even though recognition does not have to be tied to a reward, you can still show it in more ways than one. As mentioned before, I wouldn’t rely to heavily on any one of these (because it will feel automated) but by adding some mixed media into your strategy you can generate new motivation & engagement.
Here are some ideas to spur your imagination:
- Even if you already gave praise on an individual level, you could bring that praise to the next company meeting. Announce it and get the team to do a round of applause for the individual. (Do consider the individual though. Doing this for someone who is extremely introverted may have the reverse effect.)
- Make up your own award. You could create a hero cape that is given to an employee for doing ~insert behavior~. Then in return the cape is given by that employee to another employee for another job well-done. Additionally, you could create something that is only given by the dentist. Like a laminated hand for the “Pat on the back” award.
- Create a company ritual centered around gratitude. At the start of every meeting each person says something that they are grateful for (personally or professionally).
- Find innovative ways to get the team to participate. Keep a jar in the break room “Cheers for Peers” where people will fill out recognition slips for their team members & then read a few at the company meetings.
- Hand written Thank You notes. There is definitely something motivational about receiving a personalized thank you note. You could even take it a step further. Put in a blank card for them to fill out for another team member they appreciate.
- Put a formal recognition system in place (be sure that it doesn’t take place of spontaneous recognition though). It needs to be tied to a milestone or in other words, an emotional anniversary along with linking it back to the company values.
Unlock The Opportunity
As you can see, recognition has the power to transform your office. It doesn’t cost much, but it’s impact is huge. Be sure you’re following the four principles to give recognition the right way (that were outlined above). Make it a part of what you & your team does.
Now let me ask you: What are some ways that you are showing your team that you appreciate them & recognize their efforts?