You know you’ve felt it. You want your team passionately engaged about your shared mission, business, project. You want to generate the energy of a start-up fueled on pizza and dreams in a garage. And yet your corporate incentive system falls flat. We got a chance to hear from someone who has dissected exactly why so many incentive programs fail to generate the motivation you need to forge a truly great team: Paul E. White, Ph. D., the coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, and Sync or Swim. Learn from his advice below.
We all have a finite amount of mental and emotional energy. That is why we are tired at the end of a busy day where have been processing information and making decisions throughout the day. Thus, effective leaders learn how to prioritize and channel their mental energy into completing the most important tasks, and not waste it on non-productive activities.
One major drain of emotional energy often is ignored by leaders, however. That is the presence of sarcasm and cynicism in your organization. Both stem from negative thoughts and perceptions among team members that are then communicated and bounced around in the workplace.
Both cynicism and sarcasm steal energy that could be used for positive, creative and productive activities. They are like holes in the wall of your office that waste the electricity used to heat or cool your office space. And they are fueled by a lack of trust of the motives of management and supervisors.
One of the biggest barriers to positive workplace relationships is when team members don’t feel valued by their supervisor or colleagues. While over 90% of all companies have some form of an employee recognition program, these activities aren’t working. Over 75% of the employees who quit their jobs voluntarily cite a lack of appreciation as one of the primary reasons for their leaving. And 65% of employees report receiving no recognition for good work in the past 12 months.
We have found that common characteristics of most employee recognition programs actually undermine the perceived genuineness of the recognition given. These include the recognition is: a) generic (everyone gets the same certificate and gift card); b) general and impersonal (getting the employee of the month award for “doing a great job”); c) group-based (“Way to go, team; we met our goals for the quarter!”); and d) communicated in ways not important to the recipient (some people hate to go up to receive an award in front of a group).
When employees do not believe that others are genuine in their communication of appreciation, cynicism and sarcasm follow. They don’t trust others’ motives (“They just do this to ‘look good’”). Unfortunately, this can lead to an overall negative mindset where employees begin to question the motives of management and supervisors in multiple areas.
Obviously, when a lack of trust and negativity are present – collaboration and creativity grind to a halt (although team members may “go through the motions” to look like they are collaborating, results are few and the quality is poor.)
Getting Past Perceived Inauthenticity
You can never fully “prove” your authentic appreciation for a person. At the same time, there are practical steps that can be taken:
- Only communicate appreciation when it is true. It is not helpful to try to “fake it.” People have good “radar” for communication that isn’t true.
- Acknowledge the interfering causes. Statements like, “I know I haven’t communicated much appreciation to you in the past…” or “I know we’ve had our conflicts and differences in the past… but I really do value …” can be quite helpful.
- Be specific. Avoid global phrases like “Great job!” Tell the person specifically what they did that you value and why it is helpful (to you, to the organization or for the client.)
- Be consistent over time. If you communicate one message of appreciation every six months, the likelihood of being perceived as being genuine is low.
- Don’t focus solely on performance. Employees are more than production units – they are people. Acknowledge non-work related skills that are positive (for example, their cheerfulness or how they treat others kindly) can be very impactful.
When employees and staff members truly feel valued and appreciated good things happen. Morale improves, productivity increases, and creative problem-solving is more likely to occur. The small steps taken to communicate appreciation can have a huge positive impact on a business.
Go to www.appreciationatwork.com for free tools and resources.