I heard your employee engagement talk where you talked about the power of a handwritten note in employee recognition. Could you expand on that please?

Asked by Tim Indencleef

There is a ton of data and science going back to the 1950’s on what motivates people and leads to improved human performance. It turns out that there is a basic human need to be seen, to be visible and to be appreciated for what we do. In absence of that people quite quickly become demoralised and demotivated and performance suffers.

I know that some managers and maybe business owners think “Isn’t it enough that I pay you” and the truth is simply – “No it’s not”. If you want people to perform at anything more than their basic level, you’re going to have to do more than just pay them to show up

The employee recognition industry is large and quite mature, operating in most major markets around the world. A huge amount of money is spent on employee recognition – figures from Bersin by Deloitte put USA recognition spend at $48 billion per year or 25% of the annual, total pay bill. Some 80% of that is spent on recognising tenure – long service awards, despite lots of research showing that this has no motivational impact at all and very quickly becomes an entitlement. My personal view is that all money spent on long service awards is completely wasted.

When you talk to people who have received a thank you or recognition note or award, and I’ve spoken to hundreds over the years, the story that you hear time and time again is that it is the thought that counts and the personal note from the manager explaining why the person is being recognised – that is what creates the feeling of goodwill. I’ve lost count of how many times people have told me that the monetary award or gift was nice but wasn’t the thing that made them feel good.

Similarly, when organizations give a recognition award or gift without a personalised, human, individual note or message, almost invariably the recipient doesn’t think much of it. In the absence of the human touch, it becomes “I worked really hard on this project and al they gave me was a $40 gift card”.

This is critical information because most corporate recognition programmes are designed completely around the administration of the gift card, voucher or cash award, despite that being the least important piece. They are often bureaucratic and long-winded, involving nominations processes, approvals committees and multiple steps – all charged with distributing a finite pot of money or prizes and trying to avoid abuse or mishaps. This causes recognition to be rationed and often prevents it from being timely – the process can sometimes take months.

That’s why I think the very best recognition “technology”, and what I always recommend companies start with is simply giving leaders a pile of thank you cards, some stamps and access to the HRIS System so they can find employee home addresses. Nothing gives you bang-for-buck like a thoughtfully worded, handwritten card sent with meaning to an employee that you care about. With no monetary value, there is no need to ration them or seek approvals either – you can send as many as are appropriate, whenever you choose.

For more on this, there are two books that I would recommend :

CRAVE by Gregg Lederman will give you a ton of science, studies and references explaining how we know what motivates people. Then starting on page 99 it details a very simple 3 step process for how to think about writing a meaningful, strategic thankyou. Given that most employee recognition programs fail, because of poor or non-existent manager training, I find this book highly valuable reading. You can buy it on Amazon UK or the Rebel Playbook Store.

DRIVE by Daniel H. Pink will also reference a ton of social science research going back to the 190’s. In particular, this book unpicks everything you know and believed to be true about motivation and sets out a compelling argument with a lot of examples about why the “carrot and stick” approach is no longer enough for what we need in business today. You can buy it on Amazon UK or the Rebel Playbook Store. You can also watch a fantastic 10 minute animated video that explains the key points, produced by RSA Animate.

Glenn's first book, the international HR bestseller, Build it : A Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement is available on Kindle, iBooks and from any major bookseller worldwide.

© 2018 Glenn Elliott.

Floor 4, 265 Tottenham Court Road,
London W1T 7RQ

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