"This project was my
baby for over a year. After all the hours I invested, management had the nerve
to pat me on the back and give me a cheap gold pen. How patronizing! I have
news for them-I didn't do all that hard work for empty praise or a cheap prize.
I did it because I'm the best person for the job. I wanted to see it happen
and it did. This makes it feel like my accomplishments are ordinary. I didn't
just fix the fax machine or something."
Everybody likes to be acknowledged
and appreciated for their efforts. Or do they? Most companies have a formal
way of acknowledging employees with such things as annual award banquets, top
sales awards and certificates. There are a couple major pitfalls to these programs:
1) the reward is handed
down from management and reinforces imbalances in power;
2) it can be patronizing to receive a small award for a large accomplishment;
3) the accomplishment is often a team effort. It fosters resentment when just
one person gets the reward;
4) it creates competition;
5) the most common flaw of award programs is they often reward people for doing
work they were supposed to do anyway.
The best form of acknowledgment
is grounded in the idea that people work because they are committed and want
to work. This assumes people work for reasons other than a paycheque at the
end of the week or an award at the end of a project. Many people do work for
these external reasons but sometimes this is because the workplace encourages
them to. Work and accomplishment is natural and should be treated as such. As
Alfie Kohn observes in Punish by Reward, "When responsible action, the
natural love of learning, and the desire to do good work are already part of
who we are, then the tacit assumption to the contrary can be fairly described
A Culture of Appreciation
How do you acknowledge others?
To answer this, consider a company with an attitude of appreciation that is
a routine part of every day. Everyone is continually appreciating everyone else.
You don't have to be a manager to acknowledge someone else. Employees are aware
of the specific projects or roles their colleagues are involved in and what
their strengths are, and are on the lookout to catch people doing well. This
culture assumes people are out to do their best and regularly notices them doing
it. Sincere and genuine appreciation is forthcoming. Employees are at their
best because their standards of excellence are their own.
Keys to Better Performance
How do you create this kind
of a culture of appreciation?
1) Avoid awards that set
people apart from each other, such as programs for the top sales person. Only
one person can win this award, so only few will try. It also separates winners
from losers. Instead have employees aim at beating their own sales from the
2) let employees set their own goals, help them understand how it helps the
team and company, and acknowledge their contribution;
3) encourage employees to acknowledge others daily. Set up an informal network,
like a newsletter or bulletin board where people can brag about their colleagues;
4) give employees the opportunity during meetings to talk about what they accomplished
that week. In other words, let them brag about themselves;
5) recognize people for their strengths on more than specific projects or achievements.
How does each individual's strength contribute to the team as a whole?
6) make every employee aware of other's strengths and give them a chance to
learn from one another;
7) continually recognize the achievements of the group as a whole. Savor the
feeling of achievement;
8) reinforce the value of the work itself. How employees function contributes
to the community and their customers;
9) celebrate the vision of where the company is going and how the group, made
up of the individuals in it, is helping get there;
10) design incentives to award departments as a whole, where everyone is awarded
for the group's accomplishments.
Companies with an attitude
of appreciation are proud of the achievements of all employees and departments.
They are aware of the strengths of each individual in helping realize the corporate
vision. Communicating this vision is their strong point. Acknowledging people
this way can dramatically change the way people interact with each other and