Employee Recognition – Easy to Say, Hard (it seems) to Do
Let’s go out on a limb together and agree that in their next annual survey, Gallup will find that employee engagement levels will still be stuck at the low 30% they reported for 2013.
Raising engagement levels, even up to 50% from 30% seems really hard, even though the path to that goal is well laid out: It does not take much time or investment to have a manager regularly find a reason to praise each employee for something done well, and to find the time to express thanks to that person. Yet managers don’t get that simple job done. Victor Lipman wrote two columns about this issue recently on Forbes.com (this one and this one) where he expressed the same surprise and concern.
Why is this employee engagement thing so hard to crack? We suspect we might find some manager/leadership training gaps:
Managers are not directed to find reasons to praise employees. They are tasked with generating results, and there is always pressure to achieve them. In a stressful environment, it takes discipline to stop, find results worthy of a “thank you” for each employee, and take the time to deliver it in a meaningful way (not rushed, or forced, or insincerely). Lipman asked readers to share their thoughts about why managers fail at performing what seems to be such a simple act, and their responses are worth reading.
Managers are too tied up trying to please superiors to reserve time to forge deep professional bonds with subordinates.
Too many managers don’t see the need to praise people for “doing the job they are paid to do.”
Senior managers give lip service to making employee recognition a powerful motivating tool, but default to “results speak louder than words” when doling out praise.
Managers try to maintain an evenhanded approach to all employees, which causes them to be stingy with praise to prevent the appearance of favoritism, rather than being too generous with praise. This is understandable, but achieves little good: Employees have a pretty good idea which employees deserve praise for what actions, and the connected manager should be able to spot and recognize those actions without appearing to favor one person over others.
Organizations leave managers little time to work closely with their troops. Managers sit in a lot of meetings that seem to exist simply to justify the existence of each level of management.
Supervisory ranks have been thinned to the point where managers cannot get to know all the people under their charge, especially if they are being dragged into too many projects because there are fewer people to lead the projects. This is self-defeating: Employing fewer supervisors leads to less engagement and lower productivity, which eats up all the savings gained by operating with fewer supervisors.
All of these challenges are understandable, but the simple fact of saying “thank you” for a job well done should not be so hard for managers to fit into their day. Figure out how to get that done, and you will be surprised how much of an impact on productivity you will have (which could be career enhancing, so this looks like a win-win!)
Spend the rest of the month figuring out how to make it a habit to spend quality time with subordinates every working day.
Here’s a thought:
- Beg out of one meeting a week with peers and superiors that you would otherwise feel obligated to attend.
- Tell the truth: You committed to a meeting with your team that you hope will positively impact productivity, and you cannot let them down.
- Ask the person who invited you what it was that they wanted you to contribute to the meeting, and promise to get that input to him or her ahead of time.
- If they say “nothing specific, just thought it would be useful to have you there,” then you may have found the perfect meeting to drop from your schedule!
Please do let us know if this approach works out. Eliminating extra meetings by submitting input via e-mail or memo should be a goal anyway, and will get you that extra time you need to better engage your team in your mission.