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Miscellaneous articles on staff recognition

Part two of a 3-part interview with the “Guru of Thank You” Bob Nelson

While he was in Nashville in May for the National Association for Employee Recognition conference, Nelson Scott had an opportunity to sit down with Bob Nelson, the author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, 1001 Ways to Energize Employees and Managing for Dummies. His most recent book is The 1001 Rewards and Recognition Fieldbook: The Complete Guide.

Last month, in this first of a three-part interview, Bob talked about how to begin to recognize staff and value of cash as a motivator.This month, he discusses how to motivate managers to recognize staff and to maintain the excitement surrounding formal recognition programs.

NS: What can be done or said to help managers understand how much employees want to be recognized by them?

Bob Nelson: The most meaningful is recognition from your immediate manager. That person is the most important relationship in most employees’ jobs. What that person thinks of you means a lot.

What can be said or done to get managers to realize this? You show them evidence of how employees’ expectations are different today than five or ten years ago. In my research, 98.7% of employees say it is important for them to be recognized when they do a good job. When I asked, “How soon do you want to be recognized?” I found that “right away,” “very soon” or “within a week” represented 87% of the responses.

This is the crux of the whole topic: how do you get managers to get it? It is different for different managers. I have had some success getting some managers into the game.

At MCI, the highest ranked guy in the room stood up and said, “I would like to ask you to stop saying this is easy. It is hardest stuff I’ve got to do in my job. To be honest, I really don’t get it. I don’t know when to do it, how to do it or whether I have done enough. It is like hugging jello.”

This is someone who is trying to get a job done, but he doesn’t see the connection with the job or how this connects with being more successful.

I asked him, “Do you have a ‘to do’ list? Have you ever thought of listing the people who report to you on your “to do” list with an intention of each week checking them off as you caught them doing something that aligns with their mutually agreed-on goals? Could you do that?”

“Yes, I could do that.” This guy is a real task master. “If it is on my ‘to do’ list it gets done.”

Is this is what the whole thing is about? Is recognition about having a “to do” list? Well, that’s not all, but you would be further along with this guy if he started doing that.

With Triple-A, I was doing a program for managers in the claims department. The vice president was telling me how he wrote a note to someone out in the field. Six months later he was out at that office. He walked past this person’s desk and there was the note he wrote pinned in front of the desk. He was half embarrassed and half stunned.

When asked about the note, the employee replied, “Well, Mr. Johnson, it just means the world to me that you would take the time out of your day to drop me a little note. I put it there because sometimes I have a tough day and I re-read the note.”

The vice president told me he had no idea of the power in that one action. I wanted to have him tell the story at the session with his managers, but he was half embarrassed so I tricked him into it.

I started the story, fumbled it, and asked him to help me out. You could hear a pin drop when he was telling the story. For many of these managers, this was the first time they had heard that he had done this. I heard people in the room say, “Gosh, if he has time to do it, and we know he is busy, there is no excuse for me not to do it.”

NS: For organizations with formal recognition programs, how do they sustain the excitement of the recognition program and keep the program going?

Bob Nelson: The tendency is for the energy to run out. It is important to keep it exciting. Where does the excitement come from? Some of it comes from variety, from doing something different. It may be the same program, but for the next quarter we are going to do something differently. For example, whoever recognizes someone will be given something. Their names are put in a bowl and drawn for prizes. Same program, but now it has a different spin to it, a new aspect.

Another good way is to involve the people you are trying to target. Instead of having the HR group put out a program that is supposed to motivate employees, have employees on the team decide what you are going to do. Have them come up with ideas. They will be the first to say, “Nay, we are not going to do that. T-shirts? We did that last year. Most of the people thought it was a joke then.”

[Go to: Part 3: Bob Nelson talks about the importance of informal recognition and making recognition work in a high tech world]

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