I had a call recently where a leader told me about how he gave appreciation to one of his organization’s top team performers and their reaction really resonated with him. This employee was a high achieving individual, earning multiple benefits like bonuses, pay raises, awards, you name it. But his response of a big deep breath and a ‘thank you’ solidified that although he had been an outstanding employee in the eyes of leadership, he never actually heard it from leadership. Our people that show up daily, work long hours, continue high achievements like this – where does their motivation come from if their efforts are never recognized? Sure, they might receive these financial benefits, but if they really thrive off of that recognition, it’s the job of their leadership to show them how much their contribution is truly appreciated. Otherwise, they’ll stack their money and transition elsewhere, so they can feel valued.

Decoding Motivation Styles

That story left me with a thought; how many employees are just withering on the vine and not getting the recognition they deserve? We all know that money makes life easier, but instead of assuming that money is the motivation of every employee that’s hired, focus on each team member’s motivation factors. Thus avoiding a cookie-cutter approach to appreciation. Start by creating and putting a process into place to decode people’s motivation preferences.

Here’s a great excerpt from Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences HR Department on ways to recognize and reward your staff: 

  • Be genuine. Give it your full attention and be sincere.
  • Be timely. Try to recognize the individual as soon as you can after the contribution or accomplishment. This makes the link between the behavior and the reward clear.
  • Be specific. While a “thank you” is always welcome, your impact is greater if you describe the accomplishment and the value that it created. (For example, saying “Thank you, Mike, for gathering the budget numbers for me and entering them into the spreadsheet so quickly and without errors. Thanks to your great work, I was able to justify a needed piece of equipment for our new project”).
  • Give the action the “recognition” it deserves. Treat the recognition as an event by not mixing in other businesses. If the recognition takes place during a team meeting, make sure to carve out enough time at the meeting to focus on the individual being honored.
  • Provide options. If applicable, you can give the employee a few options to choose from, such as a Center for Wellness and Health promotion voucher, a one-year membership to Harvard gym, or an item from the Harvard Coop.
  • Keep it right-sized. Make sure the amount and type of recognition are appropriate for the behavior recognized.
  • Personalize it if you can. Recognize that different people are motivated by different things, and appreciate different things. Some people appreciate being recognized publicly; others may become embarrassed. One person might enjoy a gift certificate to a restaurant; another might prefer movie tickets. 

In Conclusion

It is critical that we get this recognition thing right, given it is one of the main reasons why people stay and people leave their organizations. Don’t assume those who are at senior levels don’t need genuine appreciation. Instead, create an environment that fosters recognition at all levels by all people. This will go a long way in keeping your best talent!