Jake, a busker, walked into a bar and saw a crowd gathered around a table. On the table was an overturned pot with a duck doing a lively dance on top. Jake immediately saw the huge potential of this act. He negotiated with the bar owner and, agreed to buy the duck and pot for a hefty fee.

Three days later, Jake stormed furiously back into the bar with the duck and pot. “I demand my money back! I gathered a large crowd to watch my street performance, built up their anticipation, placed the pot in front of them, and put the duck on it. It just sat there and wouldn’t dance a single step!”

The bar owner asked, “Did you light the candle under the pot?”

Many managers try to “motivate” or push people by lighting a fire under them. This is at the heart of the Motivation Myth. We really can’t motivate anyone. Motivation is an inside job. Effective leaders stoke the fire within by pulling and inspiring people through engagement and ownership.

Building a culture of recognition, celebration, and appreciation is a vastly underused and extremely powerful source of energy and inspiration. Last week’s blog post, Giving Thanks Through Recognition, Appreciation, and Celebration, featured a few recognition traps to avoid and some ways to recognize team efforts.

Here some ways to recognize individual effort:

  • Give personal hand-written notes of thanks or congratulations (possibly mailed to his or her home).
  • Pass along positive comments from others.
  • Develop “walls of fame,” “alcoves of excellence,” or web sites/blogs filled with pictures, awards, performance/achievement charts, appreciative letters, and success stories.
  • Reward with greater responsibility, autonomy, or leading an important project.
  • Further align/assign work, and/or remove barriers to allow the person to do more of what they do best playing to his or her strengths.
  • Provide more work that he or she finds especially meaningful or fulfilling.
  • Invite he/she to a meeting in which they wouldn’t normally be included.
  • Provide opportunities for training and development.
  • Sponsor his or her special cause or charity.
  • Send birthday, Christmas, anniversary, and special occasion cards to their home.
  • Respect his or her sensitivities and preferences for public or private recognition.
  • Accommodate personal needs (time off, flex time, special needs, etc.).
  • A small personal gift, uniquely appealing to their hobby or interest.
  • Gift certificates or tickets (include spouse/family, if appropriate).
  • Praise him or her to their peers, spouse, or friends (if they like public recognition).
  • Send him or her on special field/site visits.
  • Ask him or her to develop, train, or support others.
  • Get a very senior manager to give him or her personal thanks/recognition and/or send a personal note.
  • Send a complimentary email or thank you message to his or her key senior manager and copy him or her.
  • Get someone (such as a customer) to whom they really made a difference to make a special presentation or award.
  • Highlight a report or e-mail with complimentary margin notes or messages on the quality of their work or importance of their contribution.
  • Ask for their help/input with a management problem/issue.
  • Have him or her run the meeting.

Here are key steps to giving recognition:

  1. Recognize their results as specifically and immediately as possible.
  2. State how their positive actions or results are especially significant to you, the team, or the organization (try to link to your vision, values, and purpose).
  3. Ask if there’s anything you can do to provide further support or enhance their performance.
  4. Reaffirm your appreciation and ongoing support.

Too often attempts to “motivate” are clumsy attempts at manipulation with thinly disguised contempt showing through. This was well illustrated by a Farcus cartoon. A team leader is at the head of a conference table addressing her team; “We need to improve morale, any of you boneheads have a good idea?” The root cause of the motivation problem is pretty obvious. She just needs to look in the mirror. Her approach is like an auto mechanic reporting, “I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.”

More Recognition Resources: