Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, once said: “There are two things people want more than sex and money … recognition and praise”. Repeatedly, the one motivating factor that heads employee lists is appreciation for a job well executed. Good work not acknowledged seems to be a “demotivator” and results in employees not feeling valued for their effort and focus. Managers seem to struggle with showing appreciation, some saying that they don’t know how to do this well, others saying that they are just too busy to notice what employees should be doing anyway – offering their best. This attitude on the part of managers seems to be rather callous. Employees pick this up and performance and morale decrease.

Environments where managers do acknowledge good work, however, seem to thrive. Employees are more focused and energy is willingly offered in the achievement of worthy goals. Sincere appreciation given for discretionary effort and the celebration of success seem to turbo-charge the motivation engine and produce above-average results. Employees get more excited to be a part of these successes and develop the winning team attitude. There is more collaboration and a willingness to assist others in the team. Excitement builds as small successes lead to bigger ones and the appetite for more ‘wins’ grows. The manager that then calls the team together, shows appreciation and acknowledges the fine effort, reinforces desired behaviour and encourages more of the same. Acknowledgement and reward go hand-in-hand, however, and the manager could be saying something like this to the team: “Team, you have simply astounded me these past two weeks with your consistent effort, focus and success on sales. I am so proud of you all. If you maintain this momentum until the end of the month, we are going to break all previous records within this company. If this is achieved, I am going to take you all out on a celebratory dinner, but only if everyone on the team participates in the success. Let me know if there are any obstacles that may stand in the way of you becoming champions and I will endeavour to remove these hindrances”. In this example, acknowledgement, reward, guidelines and assistance are beautifully weaved into establishing the foundation for motivation.

Perhaps the following motivational factors should be considered by all managers to be able to show appreciation effectively:

  • Be specific – articulate the behaviour or action that is worthy of appreciation with clarity so that you can get the same behaviour or action again. Vagueness and unclear compliments do little for setting expectations that people can aspire to.
  • Be timely – attempt to show appreciation as soon as possible for the action that has impressed you. The further the lapse in time between the action and the appreciation, the less the impact it will have to motivate the team. Showing appreciation almost immediately reinforces good behaviour.
  • Be fair – consistency and purity of intent are essential here. If you show appreciation to one employee and fail to show appreciation for a similar action or behaviour from another employee, you will be sowing the seeds of bad morale and feelings of favouritism. Also, don’t muddy the appreciation waters with “other issues” communication – keep it pure.
  • Be public – if possible, use a public platform to highlight the good behaviour or actions, especially those where other managers themselves are present.
  • Be rational – relate the impact of the actions or behaviour on the company and that the team is thus valued and have made worthy contributions. Attempt to demonstrate the effect of the good behaviour or actions so that the employees know that they are making a difference. This gets them out of bed in the morning.

Employees need to know where they fit into the company and the value they bring to the company. Appreciation is the foundation of their motivation and makes clear to the employees what the company values and expects from its staff.

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