Celebrate, it’s good for you

By Angelo Kinicki  |  Weatherup/Overby Chair in Leadership

I can still remember the events associated with birthday parties when I was a child. This will age me, but we played pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs and tried to drop clothes pins into milk bottles. Inexpensive and fun ways to celebrate.

My wife and I like to celebrate anniversaries, Valentine's Day, birthdays, and key work accomplishments. For example, we recently went to a nice restaurant with my co-author and his spouse to celebrate the success of the 10th edition of our textbook. We find such celebrations fun, meaningful and motivational.

I can also remember the pride I felt over the years when I was recognized at work. There is nothing like hearing positive, sincere words about your work. The performance enhancing value of praise and personal attention from the boss were uncovered in a McKinsey survey of 1,000 executives. Results showed that these non-cash motivators were no less or even more effective than financial incentives such as a pay raise or bonus.

Unfortunately, research reveals that the majority of employees in the U.S. are not receiving the amount of positive recognition they desire. I also find that too many companies are doing without celebratory events that recognize employee performance in the name of cost reduction.

The negative impact of this trend became very clear to me in a recent interaction I had with a client. I was trying to help a manager increase his employees' job satisfaction and performance. After interviewing a number of employees, I proposed that the team would benefit from a performance celebration.

He told me that he was not going to celebrate because his team missed their goal by three percent. I asked, "How hard was the goal," and "Did employees have the necessary resources to achieve it." He said, "The goal was a 10 percent increase from last year," and "We do the best we can with the available resources." I got the impression that employees were overloaded because they did not have what was needed to get the job done.

I pressed the manager about the value of celebrating the effort of achieving seven percent higher performance in the current year. "I don't reward effort," he said. "We're all about results in this company." I quickly understood why his employees were dissatisfied and some were thinking of quitting.

Managers can improve their celebratory events and recognition by:

Focusing on recognition.

Remember the mantra that "what you look for, you will find." If you look for others' mistakes or errors, you'll find something negative to say. In contrast, if you focus on what people are doing right, you will find something positive to say. Here is a simple trick I use to help me focus on recognition.

I put a coin in my right pants' pocket and it serves as a reminder that I want to recognize one person on that day. When I catch someone doing something good, I recognize them and transfer the coin to my left pocket. Failing to move the coin from the right to left pocket tells me that I failed to recognize someone. Remember, you won't have anything to celebrate if you don't look for positive behavior and results.

Not being a perfectionist or miser.

Many of us suffer from perfectionism. We expect people to do everything correctly 100 percent of the time. This just isn't realistic, and it leads to our being "miserly" when it comes to giving positive recognition. Accept the fact that we all make mistakes, and don't be afraid to recognize effort.

Setting goals and milestones.

Goals and milestones become the yardstick for giving recognition. It's easier to recognize someone when the goals and milestones are specific. Having regular discussions with others about the status of their goals and milestones provides a good opportunity to recognize progress. Employees will display higher levels of performance if they receive recognition along the way.

Determining what employees' value.

People respond more positively to celebrations and recognition when they value them. Not everyone likes to celebrate with others or to be recognized in public. If you know what an individual values, you are better able to recognize in meaningful ways.

Remembering that the process matters.

There are good and bad ways to recognize someone. It is ineffective to use generic and evaluative statements like "great work, Abe." It is better to specifically note what the person did and to specifically state the results associated with the desire behavior.

I would say "Abe, you worked 10 extra hours to satisfy this client and you completed the project in advance of the deadline. Your work enabled us to make the sale and the client has recommended two additional leads for future business."

Keep in mind the words of Voltaire, an 18th century writer and philosopher:

Appreciation is a wonderful thing; it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.

First published in The Arizona Republic, April 6, 2015.

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