Praising Day In and Day Out

By Malcolm Fleschner

If the federal government ever decided to create a Department of Recognition, the first choice to head up the new department would probably be Bob Nelson. Author of the best-selling 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman Publishing, 1994), Nelson is informally known as The Guru of Thank You.

One of Nelson’s mantras is the belief that part of any organizational leader’s responsibility is to recognize employees regularly. How regularly? Every day, he says. But daily recognition doesn’t mean doling out $100 bills as if you’re one of those guys who stands on the street corner handing out Chinese takeout menus. As Nelson is quick to point out, effective recognition is often more about creativity and dedication than financial rewards. He offers the following ideas for developing a regular regimen of praise:

1. Memory Serves
Nelson recounts the story of Hyler Bracey, the CEO of the Atlanta Consulting Group, who starts every day with five marbles in one pocket. Every time he praises someone, a marble switches pockets. His goal is to make sure all five marbles wind up in the other pocket by the end of the day. The technique has helped recognition become second nature to Bracey as he goes about his day’s business.

2. Make a Note of It
Sometimes the day is so hectic you just don’t have time to think about recognizing performance. If that’s the case, make a point to conclude your day by writing personal notes for a few minutes to anyone in the organization who made a difference that day. A helpful tip is to buy some personalized note cards and keep a stack of them on the desk next to your phone.

3. Technology Is Its Own Reward
When you receive a positive email, go ahead and share it with others or read it aloud at a staff meeting. If the emailer has good things to say about a specific individual, make sure that person’s manager is cc’d as well. Also, instead of using voicemail to leave instructions, try leaving messages of praise. This is something you can do from the cell phone during your daily commute.

4. Name Names
During group meetings, single out top performers by name. Group meetings offer other opportunities for recognition as well. Read letters of thanks received by employees and give individuals the chance to publicly thank others in the group or host a “praise barrage” where everyone gets the chance to talk about what one person is doing well.

5. Mix It Up
Managers often run the risk of becoming set in their behavior patterns. Instead, vary your regimen by taking different routes to your office so that you’ll interact with more employees. Use other entrances to the building so that you can greet a variety of people and ask them about their work. Take breaks with different people every day.

6. Open Wider
Most leaders claim to have an open-door policy, but many fail to follow through by being genuinely available to their people. You need to be accessible to employees when they need to speak with you and not just when it’s convenient for you. If you absolutely can’t be torn away from something when a team member comes knocking, ask to reschedule and then when the time comes, be sure to give that person your undivided attention.

Sure, these are simple suggestions, and none requires much effort, but as Nelson points out, by making recognition a part of your daily routine, your employees will return your appreciation in a thousand ways that will be good for them, for you and for the organization as a whole.