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How to Inspire Employees through Recognition
By Paul Facella

As Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's knew, there is no better way to inspire a team than with recognition. From the chairman of the board to the receptionist, we all have a deep-down craving for recognition. Build your company's culture on the foundation of rewarding and recognizing hard workers and you'll create a fertile work environment where resiliency, high standards, high retention, loyalty, innovation, positive risk taking, and high morale are all present.

A recent Gallup poll revealed that 65 percent of Americans haven't received recognition in the past year. A United States Department of Labor study found that the number one reason why people leave organizations is that they don't feel appreciated. As American psychologist Abraham Maslow stated in A Theory of Motivation, people thrive on recognition as a form of self-value when they feel that their contributions make a difference.

Consider the rewards that are most important to your organization. Jot down the kind of effort needed to bring those values from the abstract to the concrete. Build those efforts into job descriptions so that employees become accountable for the action steps. Recognize those who achieve the best results, whether by praising them in public, or giving a keepsake at the company celebration, complete with a speech about the employee's commitment to excellence, and the results it brought to the organization as a whole. Their peers will see what excellence is all about.

Let's look at some time-tested ways leaders can inspire employees to do their best.

Make recognition a policy, not a perk. Take time to develop a system of rewards for everyone at your company. Include pinnacle rewards for high lifetime achievers, like McDonald's coveted President's Award, as well as more ordinary incentives, such as bonuses. Educate the entire staff about the program, post it for all to see, and promote it frequently.

Little things mean a lot. A handshake is the least expensive way to recognize top performers--and perhaps the most effective. Look 'em in the eye and say thanks. Be specific about what the employee did that you appreciated so much, and why.

Recognize them with fanfare. When bestowing an honor on a high-achieving employee, make it a celebration. That could mean inviting family members to be at an awards dinner, or stopping the workday early to hold a company-wide ceremony.

Remember the spouse. For marathon efforts--such as large-scale projects or regional sales turnarounds--remember to recognize the employee's significant other. After all, without the support of the employee's partner, he or she wouldn't have delivered such terrific results.

Respect your front line. Remember the little guys--the cashiers, the customer service people, the maintenance staff. They are the face of your operation and will boost your brand better than anyone else if you make them feel appreciated for all they do.

Boost team spirit. Recognizing teams or departments is also important. It binds employees together in pride. A plaque, a magnum of champagne, and a Friday afternoon off are all ways you can tell a group of employees: You did this together, and you excelled.

Make rewards meaningful. Don't give front-row stadium seats to an employee who could care less about baseball. Find out their favorite restaurant, for example, or whether they like theatre or music, and give them a night out they will really enjoy.

Recognition from the top means the most. A personal phone call or thank-you note from the CEO often has more impact on an employee than anything else.

Don't forget suppliers and clients. When you create a culture steeped in recognition, your gratitude and appreciate should spread outward--past your company walls. Don't forget to thank loyal vendors and clients for their excellent contributions with a letter, a paperweight, or even a charitable gift in their name.

Paul Facella is CEO of Inside Management, a nationally recognized group of results-oriented senior consultants with expertise in every facet of business and commerce. A 34-year veteran and former executive at McDonald's Corporation, he is author of Everything I Know about Business I Learned at McDonald's (November 2008, McGraw-Hill).

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