Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Make Their Day! - Cindy Ventrice

Subtitled "Employee Recognition that Works" the books offers "simple ways to boost morale, productivity and profits." I would put it in the category of a quick and easy read full of very practical ideas that have proven effective for me in working with my own staff. There are so many things that can be done on a regular basis, many at no cost, to make employees feel recognized and valued. Most companies pay a great deal of lip service to their employees as the "company's greatest asset" but this book points out that employee surveys tell a different story. The assumption is often made that compensation and benefits are the critical deciding factors to employees, but again the research has not borne that out. In surveying my own staff, those considerations were not in the top three of the things that mattered to them most.

Having said that, we need to consider Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs. We all remember that from school, right? Basically, Mazlow theorized that physiological and safety needs at the bottom of the pyramid have to be taken care of in order to move onto higher level concerns of belonging, self-esteem, and the ultimate self-actualization. This theory, to me, has always explained the meaning of life. Applying this model to employees in the workplace, it makes sense that certain basic needs have to be met at the bottom of the pyramid: a living wage, transportation to work, daycare/elder care for dependents, space to work, instruction/training/guidance from a supervisor, and basic equipment or tools with which to do the job. If any of those issues are not met, then expecting employees to be focused on being the best that they can be is probably not very realistic.

Employers can't solve all of the challenges of their employees personal situations, nor can they take responsibility for the issues outside the office that contribute to their employee's state of mind when they arrive for work. But many of the companies who routinely stay on the various "Best Companies to Work For" list have tried to address those bottom of the pyramid issues with things like daycare, telecommuting and flextime. Those efforts send a message about the value that company has placed on working with individual employees in order to retain them.

So assuming now (since I have digressed a bit) that we are talking about employees who have those basic needs met, what is that they want? Well, we need to give them recognition. Sometimes publicly when an accomplishment merits bringing it to the attention of those higher up or to the notice of the rest of staff or department. We need to take a moment to individually and privately tell employees one-on-one that they are important to the team, that what they do so well is important and appreciated, that they really are an asset to the company. It's as simple as saying "thank you" for the job they do every day. I try to remember to thank my staff every day, in some way, for the care they take in doing their jobs so well - even when I'm not watching. Most employees want to do well, they want to be successful, they just need to understand what it is that is expected and they want to be recognized for meeting or exceeding those expectations. Not too much to ask, is it? So why are there dozens of books out there to tell us how to do this?

Two things I thought were particularly outstanding suggestions: Encourage your employees to praise and recognize each other. Get people in the habit of catching someone else doing something great and then recognizing that - with a note, an email, or some other token. Behavior like that becomes a habit, and it encourages people to do more than expected and to keep their eyes open to other employees doing the same.

The second good idea: Recognize the people above you. We expect that our bosses should be telling us what a great job we are doing, but everyone appreciates positive feedback and recognition no matter how high up in the company. Have you hugged your CEO today?

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