Recognition, celebration, and appreciation are extremely powerful motivatorsIn Canada, the US, and some other countries, fall is a time for thanksgiving. Celebrating and appreciating a bountiful harvest is a powerful tradition from our past. Present research reinforces the power of gratitude in evaluating and extending happiness and satisfaction. Cicero proclaimed, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Studies of positivity ratios show how vital this practice is to effective relationships, teams, and organizations.

One of the top reasons people leave their jobs is not feeling appreciated or recognized for their contributions. Stanford Professor of Organizational Behavior, Charles O’Reilly finds “there is an implicit, and I think wrong, assumption coming out of economics that you have to pay people a lot to get them to work. I think people have to feel that they are rewarded, recognized, and appreciated in a broadly defined way. Simply relying on money to do that is nonsense.”

Top performing organizations often have cultures of celebration, recognition, and appreciation. “Thanks pay” is higher than in most other organizations. In his book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance, James Heskett highlights Southwest Airlines and Walmart: “Celebration, to the extent that it contributes to the quality of work life, may help explain why both of these companies achieve extraordinary productivity when compared with their peers.”

Here are a few recognition traps to avoid:

  1. Obvious flattery or exaggerated praise
  2. A prelude or “cushion” to criticism
  3. Paternalistic tone
  4. Not timely
  5. Focus primarily on top performers, excluding others
  6. Impersonal, phrased in generalities and platitudes

Team recognition can be especially powerful to reinforce collaboration and teamwork. Here are a few ways you can recognize team effort:

  • Managers cook/serve a special meal to express thanks or congratulations.
  • Spontaneous treats (e.g. doughnuts, cake, ice cream, pizza) for passing a milestone or celebrating a win along the way.
  • Charts or posters showing team progress.
  • Posting team pictures and their stories/achievements.
  • Have teams present their accomplishments/projects/progress to executives, visitors, organization meetings, etc.
  • Have teams featured or make presentations at industry or technical conferences.
  • Add to the team’s Laughter Index with humorous or fun activities, events, or holiday celebrations.
  • Make up team plaques, pins, trophies, certificates, hats, mugs, t-shirts, etc.
  • Have a senior manager drop by a team meeting or work area with special thanks, celebration, or presentation.
  • Hold special days on which teams can set up a “trade show booth” in lobbies, exhibit halls, hotel ballrooms, to show what they’ve been doing and connect others to their work.

Recognition, celebration, and appreciation are extremely powerful motivators. But many managers under use these powerful energy sources. We’re wired to look for what’s wrong, and focus on that. However, many highly inspiring leaders build personal habits and cultures looking for what’s right and reinforce those behaviors. What gets rewarded, gets repeated.

Next week – How to Recognize Individual Efforts