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Miscellaneous articles on staff recognition

Informal recognition may be more difficult, but is more rewarding

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

This month in the third and final segment of Nelson Scott’s interview of Bob Nelson, he talks about the importance of informal recognition and making recognition work in a high tech world.

This interview was conducted during the National Association for Employee Recognition conference held in Nashville in May, 2004. In this first of a three-part interview, Bob talked about how to begin to recognize staff and value of cash as a motivator. Last month, he discussed how to motivate managers to recognize staff and to maintain the excitement surrounding formal recognition programs.

NS: Some organization believe that recognition must be formal – an annual event, an employee of the year, and so on. What is the best way to share the message with managers and front line staff that informal, day-to-day recognition is important?

Bob Nelson: The informal can be elusive. Sometimes because it is a formal program, we’ve got the budget. We have the stuff over in the closet. We have time set aside. It is easier to say we did it, it is done, and it is in the budget.

As one person said, “[informal recognition] is so much more intangible.” This makes it a little harder. As managers get it, it’s more rewarding for them as well.

Another common constraint on this topic is time. In my doctoral work, I found that managers who didn’t use recognition cited time as one of the most important reasons. The reality is that it takes so little time. If you can get managers to see the value of [recognition] and the fact that it really works, they don’t have time not to do it.

An example comes from a woman from Michigan, Janet Ford, who worked for the Department of Transportation. Her boss was the head of the state-wide agency. She was constantly trying to get him to do this type of stuff. She told me he did an annual State of the Union that was broadcast out to everybody.

She said, “It is coming up this year. I was wondering if it might be more effective it you delivered it to each division around the state.”

He said, “I can’t afford the time to do that. It would take weeks. We’ll do it like we always have done it.”

“Why don’t try to do it at one office? I think it might be more meaningful to them.”

She set this up and he did it for one office. He came back and said “I don’t have time not to do this. I learned so much about what is really going on with them and they had wonderful questions. It changed my priorities.” They proceeded to set up these meetings and he came to view this as part of his job.

In a different situation, I was interviewing an operations manager at Bank Boston. She had 65 employees working for her. I asked, “How many people do you talk to every day?”

She said, “Sixty-five.”

I said, “Perhaps you didn’t understand my question. Of these 65 employees, how many people do you get a chance to physically connect with and talk about a project?”

She said, “Sixty-five.”

When I asked her how she managed to get her job done, she responded, “That is my job. What I talk to them about is their jobs. The more I help them, the more they can be on mark with what needs to be done.” To get managers to see recognition like this is unbelievably powerful.

NS: What impact has our increased reliance on voice mail and e-mail had on staff recognition?

Bob Nelson: Technology generally works against this topic because technology of any type tends to make us more efficient, and puts distance in our working relationships. The more connected we are – faxes, e-mails, pagers and cell phones – the more out of touch we tend to be. You are on call 24/7, but having a real connection comes from spending time with people, having lunch with them, asking about their kids.

John Nasbitt, in his book Megatrends said, the more high tech we become, the more high touch we need to be to stimulate the technology. Otherwise we end up with an alienated workforce.
Most employees today spend more time with their computers than they do with their managers. Their manager may even be in a different time zone, and they may never see him at all. Unless a connection is made in some other way, they feel out of touch.

That being said, if you focus on the things that are really important – having access or being included on information – people can feel closer to you through technology. It’s all in the way you use it. I have had employees tell me that they felt closer to their manager when they were 2000 miles away than when they were next door.
By being creative and reaching them where they are, you can still make it happen.

Bob Nelson is the author of several books, including 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. You may visit Bob Nelson’s web site at www.nelson-motivation.com

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