"Well, since you ask," Janelle told Trent during her annual, "I think it would be nice to hear I'm doing a good job more than once a year! I've got no complaints about my compensation, and I'm certainly grateful for the bonus. Really, this is a pretty good place to work—I know what I need to do and can do it well, and it's a good fit with my personal interests. I tell myself that all the time. Why can't you and the other managers tell me that? And I think I'm pretty self-motivated compared to some of the other folks on the team."
You've heard it before, and it sounds really simple, but it often falls by the wayside in the everyday quest to get the job done. Recognition equals motivation—and it doesn't have anything to do with money. And Janelle's experience is far too common on today's teams. Managers like Trent, despite their best intentions, don't do enough to turn their good performers into great ones who'll lead the whole team to peak performance, because they too often let recognition slide.
Here's some insight from the pros:
Focus on speed, not on size. A lot of team leaders still think their recognition programs can only be effective if they're tied to big, tangible rewards. But the size of a reward is much less important than the speed with which it's delivered. That's what Janelle is telling Trent.
Sure, the annual bonus is nice, but frequent recognition—that is, instant real-time positive feedback—is more motivating. Assuming that your people are fairly compensated to start with, money really isn't that big a motivator, a fact borne out by dozens of studies of the workplace. The same goes for performance contests that offer alluring prizes.
Get up-close and personal. Too many managers are afraid to really get close enough to their employe—personally, emotionally or even physically—to effectively praise and recognize their performance in real time. Now, sure, there are probably folks on your team who you don't want to get too close to, for whatever reason. But don't mistake a pat on the back for a big bear hug.
The risks involved in direct, personal interaction with your employees are fairly minor compared to the rewards of having the kind of impact on performance that you can't achieve from a distance as an aloof "authority figure." And no, giving that pat on the back doesn't make it harder for you to then get tough when performance slips. It makes it easier to look employees in the eye and confidently tell them they need to change their ways.