Managers may not think right off the bat that at least part of their role in the workplace is to cheer on their direct reports. But leadership expert Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. , author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011), argues persuasively in a recent post to his “Leaders to Leader” blog that cheerleading is a “critical aspect of leadership.”
And while managers may view recognition as something that should be doled out in small doses, lest employees get spoiled by it, Bednarz contends that “to be effective in generating long-term, concrete results, rewards, recognitions and motivation must be given liberally, frequently and publicly. They should be fun, uplifting and encourage all members of the workplace.”
He does make a distinction between “tangible” and “intangible” motivation: “The intangible aspects of encouraging words and pats on the back, although not insignificant, can be quickly forgotten, while the tangible aspects are visible and durable.
“Napoleon discovered long ago that men would walk into combat and perform daring feats for a piece of ribbon and scrap of metal,” Bednarz remarks. “Managers should learn from this lesson: it’s not the value of a reward or recognition, but what that reward stands for. People will move mountains for the right reward.”
Turning to a more modern example of a cheerleading leader, Bednarz points to the late Curtis “Curt” Carlson (1914 – 99), founder of Radisson Hotels, T.G.I. Friday’s, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and other “hospitality companies.”
Carlson, as Bednarz tells it, said in an interview with CNN that a manager could give an employee a $20 bonus on Friday, but by Monday it would be spent and forgotten. But if the employee had received a framed certificate or some other tangible form of recognition, it would remain as a constant reminder of the accomplishment.
Bednarz suggests managers consider awarding certificates, pins, coffee cups and other such items that will be used and remain visible in the workplace as motivational tools.
He also explains that frequency is also essential to tangible motivation. “Carlson learned that to be effective, recognition must be as frequent and public as possible. Tom Peters discussed this concept in his book, Catching Someone Doing Something Right,” he noted. “Too often, managers only identify the negative aspects of their employees’ performance. Peters talks about turning this concept around by looking for and immediately recognizing the positives.”
Public recognition is also key to tangible motivation, states Bednarz as it “builds self-confidence and self-esteem while fostering team spirit and a strong sense of comradery.”
“Managers will be amazed at the amount of effort their employees will expend to earn a piece of paper or inexpensive knick-knack,” he sums up.
Deciding between cash or carry, then, is worth considering the next time you should cheer on an employee.
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