Harvey Mackay: Motivate your employees with acknowledgments

Don MacPherson is co-founder and president of Modern Survey, a human capital measurement company, which, among other things, conducts employee-engagement surveys. Their research has shown that recognition and appreciation is the top driver of employee engagement.

Perhaps it seems elementary, but Don says if you want employees who are fully engaged, you need to ensure they are recognized when they do great work and that they know you appreciate their contributions to the organization.

Don is so convinced of the importance of his findings that he takes his own advice to a high level. "One of the ways I let our employees know how much they are appreciated is through my Thanksgiving routine," he says. "It is by far my favorite day of the year to work. I get to the office by 8 a.m. and start calling each employee.

"During those calls I let them know how thankful I am that they choose to spend their days at Modern Survey. I mention at least one special contribution they have made to the company over the previous few months. I let them know how much I am looking forward to doing great things with them in the months and hopefully years ahead. I want them to know I am so grateful they are a part of our team that I am willing to work my holidays for them. It makes for an exciting and emotional morning, and I always feel fulfilled once I have made my last call."

Then Don goes a step further.

"After I am finished calling each employee, I call clients, my closest friends, and my immediate family members," he said. "I thank the clients (mostly on voicemail) for their support and loyalty. My friends and family are thanked for being a part of my life and for helping make me who I am."

I wonder if Don makes it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner! For the record, Modern Survey has 23 employees, making his session relatively manageable. But it's the creativity and the personal touch that intrigue me.

Employee recognition is a fundamental concept in successful companies. Thanksgiving is a very appropriate time of year to express your gratitude for loyalty, hard work and a positive attitude. Holidays present a terrific opportunity to thank employees - but they certainly aren't the only time of year to let your staff know what their efforts mean to the company.

Recognition consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, authors of "The 24-Carrot Manager" and "A Carrot a Day," say recognition is most effective when it is:

•Positive. Managers should not use recognition events as "a time to talk about how far someone has come, or how they could have done even better." Keep comments positive.

•Immediate. "The closer the recognition to the actual performance the better."

•Close. "Recognition is best presented in the employee's work environment among peers."

•Specific. "Point out specific behaviors that reinforce key values."

•Shared. "Recognition that means the most often comes from peers who best understand the circumstances surrounding the employee's performance. Peers, as well as managers and supervisors, should be able to comment during the presentation."

Let me add a few lessons from my own experience. Recognition doesn't have to be costly or elaborate. A hand-written note is a rare commodity in most businesses today, but it's one of my favorite ways to let staffers know their dedication is appreciated. Acknowledge the "little" things -- an employee whose can-do attitude sets a positive tone, the person who never sees a setback but a new opportunity. Celebrate group efforts too. As I like to say, "The boat won't go if we all don't row."

Perhaps you've detected a theme here. As a manager, you are only as effective as the people you supervise. These are not mere employees working for you; they are people who can find other places to work if they feel undervalued.

Don't assume employees know how much you appreciate their efforts just because they still have a paycheck. Never waste an opportunity to say thank you.

Mackay's Moral: You may not spend your Thanksgiving like Don MacPherson, but really, is Thanksgiving limited to only one day a year?

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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