In its 2013 State of the American Workforce report Gallup states that employee engagement- the degree to which an employee is engaged in and enthusiastic about their work and thus acts in a way that furthers organizational interests- increases when managers focus on employee strengths. A strengths-based management approach means that front-line managers maximize employees’ chances to use their strengths every day. They have daily interactions with employees to empower them and help them discover and develop their talents.
Employee recognition is a key component of strengths based management. This isn’t a reference to formal recognition programs or automated prizes. Giving employees a plant or a shiny pen on their 5 year anniversary doesn’t communicate worth. At its core employee recognition has to be about communicating VALUE.
Employee engagement is shaped by employees’ perceptions of their value to an organization, team, and customer base. When it comes time to engage in employee recognition, leaders must put forth recognition efforts that draw attention to these contributions. Employees that report feeling valued at work report higher levels of engagement in their jobs. They also interface with customers more successfully, have fewer time and attendance issues and produce higher quality work product.
This is where front-line managers are critical to success. They are the only person in the work-life of the employee with both the power and opportunity to recognize employees (that is, to celebrate their value) on a regular basis. Think about it:
- Who sees employee behavior, performance and contributions most frequently?
- Who is the organizational “authority-figure” to the employee?
- Who conducts formal evaluation of employee performance?
- Who is charged with leading the team?
- Who sets the tone of the work environment? The culture? The atmosphere?
- Who connects employees to upper management and executives?
The role of the front-line manager cannot be overstated. Frequent and targeted recognition is a key leadership strategy that must be embraced by managers at all levels to actively engage the workforce. How? Here are 3 key components of front-line recognition that impact employee engagement:
Recognize Early and Often
You don’t need a spectacular accomplishment or formal occasion to engage in recognition. Celebrating small victories or accomplishments can have a huge impact on the morale of individuals and teams. Point out when something has been done well. Say “Thank You.” And do it often. Research by Marcia Losada found that success in virtually any relationship requires a certain level of positivity, specifically 3 positive remarks for every negative one. Keep this 3-to-1 ratio in mind when balancing recognition and constructive feedback. Strive to direct positive comments to employees at least 3 times as often as you direct corrective or procedural feedback.
Be specific and personal
Getting a plant or a shiny pen as a gift is nice, but the impact comes from the note attached. Imagine getting that “5 year” gift with a note that said something like this:
“5 years ago this week you joined our team and we’ve truly benefited from your presence. Your commitment to your work makes all our jobs easier and your dedication to our customers in the form of your constant warmth and good cheer is invaluable. I probably don’t say it enough but please know: I am so glad you work here.” Signed, (boss’s name)
What’s powerful about this for the employee isn’t just what was said…but that the author took the time to say it. The author took a moment to truly stop and appreciate someone’s contribution and note the specific examples that were articulated. That’s how you communicate value.
Imagine you went to a meeting and, prior to its start, you got to pick one of 3 door prizes: A water bottle, a rubber band, or an iPad. Without hesitation most would choose the iPad, right? Clearly it’s the most valuable item of the 3. It’s flashy, slick, and contemporary, the superstar of the group.
This happens in teams as well. It’s easy to recognize the superstars. They stand out. They bring something obvious to the group and as a leader you probably don’t have to work very hard to recognize them. But not everyone is a superstar.
Had you taken a few moments to examine the water bottle you would have found a sturdy, reliable device. It never leaks, it’s portable, consistent, and is always there when you need it. And the rubber band? Invaluable. It’s quietly strong, flexible, and can handle quite a lot of stress.
And neither will ever be an iPad.
Recognition is about celebrating the unique talents and contributions of every member of a team. It’s easy to lose sight of these gifts if employees work daily in the shadow of a high performer, but every employee brings something to the table. Take time to figure out what that is and celebrate it. Whether it’s administrative responsibilities, interpersonal interactions with clients, or how they relate to their co-workers, celebrate everyone, and help them see how their “routine” contributions produce powerful results.
In addition to impacting employee engagement, recognition reinforces the kind of performance and behaviors you want consistently out of your employees. High job performance is a learned behavior. And rewards, in the form of recognition and validation, provide emotional reinforcement to that ongoing learning.
(Did you find this article valuable? Please share it with others and comment below! Thanks! ~Joe)
(UPDATE: Recognition insight for all 16 MBTI Types can be found here!)