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Employee recognition: a silver bullet for business success?

Do you work at a company that values the daily positive contribution you make to the bottom line? And by value I do not mean the pay check, paltry though it may sometime seem, that they stick you with come month-end. I mean, even in these tough times does you company really recognize the worth of your labour and talent - assuming you have not hid same under a bushel?

OK so we know how the company treats us when we mess up, lose that huge contract and when it is undeniably us that has caused red ink to flow out the door. 'The Donald' (Mr Trump, if you please) has some famous last words for the likes of those of us who do that. "You're fired!" said in any language, stings the pocket and the ego and is a decided blot on the ole resume. But what happens when year-end over year-end, it is your consistent contribution or that of your team that causes the scales to tip positively? Does the business recognize you? Especially now when the financial squeeze is on everyone's balance sheet?

Employee recognition whatever form it takes, communicates to the worker that s/he is valued. Wouldn't you think that distinguishing the work and worth of the persons who contribute positively to the running of your business should be the sine qua non for any company? So, how comes more companies are not on board with it? How come they try to cheap it out and make it seem like the employee should be recognizing the company for job they have? How come? Yes, I know. No matter what 'you do for them" employees will always grumble. It will never ever be enough and they will surely leave you in the lurch at the drop of a hat, like the 'pretty car eye girl' - if a better offer comes along. The truth is that employee recognition is no silver bullet for your business success but it helps at the very least as a motivating factor.

Most employees will tell you that they have enough pens, watches, mugs, plaques/certificates and such delights. They are into cash now. Cold, hard cash. Money, money, money. Moola. You get my drift? Sentiment be damned - just roll up the Brinks truck to the curb and load them up. Sadly, though the era of the deep pockets have receded and huge bonuses are now a shameful thing of the past. Companies are scrutinizing every cent with a bigger spy ware than you ever knew existed.

The trick to employee recognition is timing. Best selling author and employee motivation expert Bob Nelson told Harvard Management Update (February 2008) that, "The sooner you acknowledge employees' performance, the clearer they get the message, the more likely they are to repeat the desired performance."

Says he, "Recognition is most powerful when it's contingent. Companies will bring in doughnuts on Friday and give people cards on their birthday, and all of a sudden you've got an entitlement culture. If you do stuff just to be nice, people end up expecting more. So make recognition contingent upon desired behavior and performance; they'll value the recognition more and you'll get better results. And you have got to keep it fresh, relevant, and sincere. Any incentive has less punch with repeated use."

I am doing a mental survey of the companies with which I have worked over the last twenty-odd years in Jamaica and it is with regret that I report that there was not a lot of recognition going on in those businesses. And most of those companies were top earners, year-on-year so the employees could not have all been shiftless slugs.

What I have experienced a lot of in the Jamaican workplace (apart from insurance companies and sales driven companies) are businesses who recognize long serving employees, rather than performance. So Mr. Thompson who has been holding up the water cooler and his chair in the canteen for the last 25 years is a shoo in for that 'recognition'. Never mind that he has never done anything that can be remotely considered as enterprising or that has added value to any business process or procedure. He has just come to work every day and managed to fly very low under the radar, pushing paper and stepping very lightly so that he gets blame for no screw-ups.

Should you really be rewarded for just turning up to work every day and churning out an average's day's work? Providing of course you are not the night watch man - and I do believe that security technology has made them all but obsolete our Jamaican Mr T. is rewarded every five, ten, fifteen or twenty years with a certificate, a plaque or if the company is feeling particularly generous and adventurous an engraved ceramic mug. True story: I once worked with a company who gave employees mugs engraved with their name on it at the awards function. I still have mine as living proof. And this was in the 'boom' years of the 1980s.

Answering the question as to whether there are special considerations to delivering recognition in tough economic conditions, Nelson responds: "Yes. The times when we need to do it the most, we tend to do it least. Say you give a team award that used to come with $250 but because you can't afford the $250, you stop giving the team award anymore. I say still give the team award. Say something like, "We've had to drop the financial aspect to hunker down, but it doesn't diminish the value of the job that this team did, especially at this time." When we are up against it, just a word of support, a team lunch, a "hang in there," can go a very long way." How does your company measure up?


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