Archive for August, 2009

How to Harness the Power of Praise

Make your office a more effective place to work by catching people doing something right.

Another day another dollar”; “Thank God it’s Friday”; “You can take this job and shove it!” Why are so many common phrases about work so negative? What would it take for your people to say: “Another day, another welcome challenge”, “Thank God it’s Monday” and “I’ll take this job and love it!”?

Some managers claim the best way to motivate staff is through the wallet: increase pay, raise allowances, give more cash incentives. But while money is certainly useful, it is not the only key to human motivation.

Sincere recognition can mean a lot more to your staff than just another dollar in the bank. A genuine pat on the back, given at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, and in front of the right people; can boost staff morale and commitment in ways that money never will.

What can you do to build an enduring culture of motivation and reward at your company or organization? What actions can you take to make your people feel recognized, appreciated and esteemed?

Move beyond sporadic incentive schemes and predictable “Employee of the Month” contests. These may work on a short term basis, but they do not create a challenging and inspirational company culture.

You can make a bigger difference. Here are four key steps to help you build the long-term morale of your all-important team.

1. Learn from Everyone’s Mistakes.

Before rewarding people for a job well done, assure staff they won’t be crucified if things somehow end up poorly or fail.

In an environment of challenge and growth, people must try things they’ve never done before. And they will make mistakes. In a healthy and rewarding culture, people must be encouraged to learn from their mistakes, then quickly regroup and rebuild. Managers should work with employees to understand, rectify and improve. Together they should attack the problems, and not the people involved.

Managers might ask aloud: “What can be learned from this mistake? What processes can be improved? Who else in the company should we tell about this error so they, too, will benefit from the learning?”

Many companies have rituals for sharing success and achievements, and that’s good. But it’s the mistake no one hears about, and others blindly repeat, that can pull your ship to the bottom.

“Sweep it under the rug.” “Turn a blind eye.” “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” These quotes are the recipes for disaster.

In Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, Harvey McKay writes: “You’ll always get the good news; it’s how quickly you (and the rest of the team) get the bad news that counts!”

Lead by example: Start your next management meeting by sharing the biggest mistake you’ve made in the past two weeks. Explain what you learned from the experience. Then ask others for their ideas and input, listen for feedback, and thank those who offer their opinions. You will demonstrate a willingness to learn together, and encourage an open culture of sharing and communication.

What about those staff who make no mistakes? Either they are very good at hiding what is really going on, or they are not being challenged enough. The person who only makes small, safe and bureaucratic moves does not innovate or grow. In today’s turbulent markets, this is not what you need to succeed.

2. Make Appraisal Criteria Clear.

Make sure your staff understand how they are being appraised for increments, bonuses and promotions. Whether you evaluate yearly or monthly, openly or behind closed doors, in writing or in dialogue, staff must understand the criteria for their evaluation.

Introduce your standards for appraisal during the initial hiring process, explain it further during new employee orientation, and clarify the process consistently through staff meetings, newsletters and executive forums.

After you have published these “rules of the game”, keep the playing field fair. Meritocracy demands unprejudiced assessment. Nothing dooms staff morale faster than watching an incompetent who “takes care of the boss” move forward, while capable staff who don’t kiss backsides languish in mediocre positions.

Ask yourself: “Are the criteria for staff evaluation made clear? Are they openly explained and discussed so that all parties can achieve and succeed? Is the process of evaluation fair-minded?”

If your answer is yes, keep moving forward. If your answer is no or maybe, tackle this crucial issue, now. If you are not sure of the answer, check with those whose opinion really counts: your staff. Take a survey, run a poll, ask for immediate feedback.

But be forewarned: If the staff says your system of appraisal is unclear or less than fair, you’d better be ready to change. Even more demotivating than an unfair process of evaluation is an unfair process of evaluation that persists, even after staff have given you their honest opinion.

3. Encourage Career Development.

Make sure the conversation of career development is always open. Provide staff with a boss, mentor, counsellor or personnel officer who cares about their growth and professional well-being. Show you care about future possibilities and potential, not just current results or past achievements. Help staff understand those competencies required for a successful future. Help your team chart career progressions that are sustainable and realistic.

Provide access to relevant courses, seminars and conferences. Subscribe to appropriate publications and circulate articles of interest. Build a library of books, tapes and other useful resources. Keep everyone in the company aware of changes and trends in your industry so they, and you, are not caught flat-footed.

You can provide many opportunities for new learning without spending money outside your organization.

Start by cross-training one another. Use attachment schemes to integrate neighboring departments, and designate good mentors to show each other the ropes. Launch cross-departmental teams to work on cross-functional projects. Put all these plans into action and your staff’s confidence, and competence, will grow.

4. Create Powerful Rewards and Meaningful Recognition.

Tailor in-house reward and recognition programs to fortify your company culture.

Most rewards are handed down from the top: management praises staff, supervisor recognizes subordinate, boss applauds the workers. Why stop there? You can encourage recognition in all directions.

Create a “Bottom Up” award for staff to recognize and compliment their leaders. You determine the frequency and budget for this scheme, but allow staff themselves to select the winners, the reasons for winning, and the appropriate awards.

Transform “peer pressure” into “peer pleasure” on a group and individual basis. Have each department or work team select and publicly recognize a different team for their notable efforts and improvements. This encourages cross- functional understanding and coop-eration.

Ask each staff member to nominate one or two role models from among their peers. Get the reasons behind their nominations. Then recognize your role models. Publicize the reasons. Reinforce those values and behaviors.

Invite customers to participate in your staff recognition scheme. Put easy to use nomination forms at key points of customer contact. Set up a hotline for customers to call with compliments or complaints. Get your suppliers involved. Query them by phone, mail or fax. Thank them for their vote and send them a copy of the praise you then give to your staff.

Remember to reward the rewarders. Give special recognition to those managers who excel at recognizing their own staff.

What, When, Where, How and Why?

What should you highlight with your tributes and commendations? What gets rewarded gets done, so recognize and reward a lot.

Cover all traditional categories: targets met, sales accomplished, savings gained, customer compliments received. Then add some spice: celebrate the first account opened in each industry, first repeat order from every new account, under-budget completion of important projects, innovations that save the company money.

Acknowledge system and process improvements: fastest cycle time to date, shortest time to respond, most productive shift of the month, and most consistent performance every quarter.

Applaud improvement efforts in groups, sections and teams. Celebrate two or more departments — at the same time — for their progress in teamwork and communication.

To find even more opportunities for celebration, get creative. Highlight the most unusual service recovery, or most unique approach to a common problem. Commemorate the “best mistake” each month, with special focus on the learning that followed thereafter.

Create new themes for recognition each week, or month, or quarter. Keep staff motivated with unusual campaigns to arouse their interest and stimulate innovative actions.

When should recognition be provided? To sustain a vibrant culture, keep praise flowing in programmed and spontaneous ways.

The end of the month is a natural time to give rewards for targets and goals achieved. The end of the quarter aligns with financial accomplishments. The end of the year is an expected time for bonus, increments and promotions.

But the beginning of each week can also be a good time to set short-term campaigns in motion. And nothing beats Friday for a few off-the-wall commendations.

In “The One Minute Manager,” Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson encourage readers to catch people doing something right. That means recognizing good actions whenever and wherever you see them. Give merit to your deserving “Employee of the Moment” – why wait for the end of the month?

Where should you give out your awards and commendations? To build an encouraging culture, make the recognition widely known. Give praise at staff meetings, team meetings, management meetings and executive forums. Award prizes at the company picnic or family day. Bestow special honors at the annual dinner and dance.

Create tea parties, breakfast gatherings or end-of-the-week celebrations. Use every opportunity to commend superb performance and recognize successful efforts.

Highlight your awards in the company newsletter. Notify the local newspapers. Send press releases with photos to your industry publications.

Create a Wall of Fame in your plant, office or building. Take down some of the impersonal decorations and put up visual reminders of your most successful projects and praise-deserving teams.

How can you provide staff with meaningful recognition? By making the awards something your staff will appreciate and remember. For example, when the recipient is an outgoing type, throw a party, make a big fuss, go for all the publicity you can muster.

If the winner is shy, however, consider providing praise in a more personal way: special meeting, a thoughtful letter, a hand-written note on their desk.

If you are going to award a prize, try to make the honor reminiscent of the achievement. For the fastest production team, buy running shoes. For the engineer who devises a better way, go out and bronze a spanner wrench. For sales teams that hit the target, host a party with a tournament of darts.

You can give useful work tools as practical reinforcements. A new workstation can be a major motivator for a technically minded professional. A direct telephone line can mean success to the salesperson starting out. New business cards mean a lot to junior staff: give them as a premium for good performance.

And finally, why should you provide so much reward and recognition for your staff?

People have many choices of where — and how hard — to work. An encouraging culture motivates us to give our best. A sterile or discouraging culture diminishes our enthusiasm daily. Where would you rather put in your best effort?

At one local company, staff’s admonition to the newcomer is: “If you do a good job around here, you get to keep your job. But don’t expect recognition.” Now that’s a culture that needs to change!

To make the change and make it last, you must build your company culture. Create a community of recognition, encouragement and support.

It’s not an easy job, and the change won’t happen overnight. But you must take the lead and meet this important challenge. The company you build and the people you inspire may be your greatest rewards of all.

Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace


The inability to manage diversity in the workplace can be extremely harmful to your business. It can cost you:

  • discrimination suits
  • litigation time and money
  • legal fees/settlements
  • high employee turn over rates
  • negative community image

You can keep your risks at a minimum by understanding what cultural diversity is, why it matters, and how to effectively manage your business in terms of diversity.

What is Cultural Diversity?

The United States is often thought of as the great melting pot where anyone from any background can assimilate into a single society. This idealistic way of thinking is not too applicable to our nation today. A more realistic and appropriate “ideal” is one of multiculturalism (cultural diversity). Multiculturalism is based on the idea that cultural identities should not be discarded or ignored, but instead, should be maintained, and valued.

The importance of cultural diversity has been, by in large, accepted in American business. This is illustrated by the increased presence of women and minorities in the business world. Diversity has gone from being a moral and /or legal issue into a business necessity.

A study by the Hudson Institute for the U.S. Department of Labor found that 85% of the new entrants into the workforce in the year 2010 would be women, minorities, and immigrants. If you want your business to be successful and competitive in the future, you will have to utilize these human resources and participate in these diversity trends.

Why Does Cultural Diversity Matter?

Cultural Diversity matters to every single one of us, both professionally and personally. When a group or segment of our population is excluded or oppressed, all of us are denied. For our businesses and communities to not only, survive, but to thrive, each of us needs to be aware and sensitive to ALL the members of the community. Our communities are rich with resources. When all segments are respected and utilized, it benefits everyone involved.

A great many of us live on the “margins” of society. To be in a margin means that you are not a part of the mainstream, popular culture. In this nation, our popular culture, or ideal for business success, is white, young, heterosexual, Christian, and male. This means you are on the margins if you are:

  • a woman
  • have ANY ethnic background that is non-white
  • are not a heterosexual
  • are not a Christian
  • are not between the ages of 21-50

If you can answer “yes” to any one of these criteria, you live in the margins. This means that there are obstacles, prejudices, and stereotypes about YOU as an individual. You cannot automatically assume that society’s view of you is unobstructed or based solely on your individual character, qualifications, or accomplishments. Unfortunately, you may be put in the situation to “second guess” or question one’s motives in their interactions and responses to you.

Another fact this criteria illustrates is that more of us live IN the margins than do not. More of us DO NOT fit the societal prescription of what is normal and acceptable. While this all may be true, we all must do our best to function as productive, happy individuals.

So what are we to do? We can all strive for change. We can all be proactive in our decisions and lifestyles rather than reactive to ignorance and intolerance. When a white woman snubs an ethnic woman, for instance, she is harming herself as well. The white woman lives in the same margin as the ethnic woman, and she is only perpetuating and cementing her place there.

America is the most diverse nation in the world. Our ethnicity, religion, life experience, etc., makes each of us unique. Ideas our nation once embraced about assimilation are now inappropriate and outdated. For someone who lives on the margins to assimilate into a single idea of acceptance to fit into society is a gross violation of their individual identity and rights. This means that we all need to learn to accept what is different from us and respect it.

Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

The management of diversity can be considered a response to the need to recognize, respect and capitalize on the different backgrounds in our society in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. Different cultural groups have different values, styles, and personalities, each of which may have a substantial effect on the way they do business.

Rather than punishing or stifling these different management styles because they do not conform to the traditional white (male) management methods, employers should recognize these differences as benefits. Not only can diverse management styles achieve the same results as traditional methods, but a diverse workforce can also help improve the company’s competitive position in the marketplace.

Diversity, or sensitivity, training is now common place in the corporate world. However, small businesses need to be aware of these issues just as well. As a small business owner, your awareness and respect of diversity truly matters to your employees and your client base.

You must create a balance of respect and understanding in the workplace to have happy and optimally productive workers. In addition to this, it is important that you AND your employees are aware of the importance of respecting diversity when dealing with your clients. When you work effectively with your community, both you and the community benefit.

Positive Power of Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is often an uncomfortable and onerous experience, but it is a critical element to long-term success. Without it, we have no way to measure how we are doing or if we are headed in the right direction. Appreciating the value of feedback is an important first step in harnessing its power.

Intention is key: feedback should be given in order to help, not hurt. Too often, people give feedback to make themselves feel better, with little regard for the impact it has on the recipient. When on the receiving end, it is far more useful to view the feedback as important information that creates opportunities for improvement rather than criticism meant to hurt.

Focus the feedback on the behavior instead of on the person. This goes a long way in creating that positive intention. It is crucial that feedback is directed toward behavior the receiver can do something about, as opposed to events or circumstances beyond their control.

Well-timed feedback is the best kind of feedback. It is most useful at the earliest appropriate opportunity after the behavior you want to address has been demonstrated. Positive feedback given in front of a group to acknowledge someone’s performance is a great idea. Not so when offering constructive feedback of a sensitive nature that is far better suited to the privacy of closed doors.

Some other important elements of giving feedback: Establish rapport and some level of trust. Focus on a positive aspect before giving more constructive feedback. Stress their goals.  Let them know how they would benefit from change. Ask for permission to give them feedback. Be specific and be brief.