Thursday, September 17, 2009

Addicted to Achievement

It is one employee’s fifth anniversary. Another employee had a record number of achievements in the past month. The third young professional delivered a truly amazing result to a delighted client. Employee #1 receives a certificate acknowledging the anniversary. Employee #2, the exceptional achiever, is given an American Express Gift Certificate. And employee #3 — the extraordinary young professional — is presented with a pin acknowledging the stupendous client outcome and a personal note from the president.

Is anything missing here? Well, all of these physical rewards are wonderful accolades for employees. Longevity, overall achievements and marvelous client results are all among categories that every firm should salute … though some, sadly, do not. Fewer than one in three American workers strongly agree that they have received any praise from a supervisor in the last seven days, according to Gallup research.

Nevertheless, my favorite kind of reward or recognition and the one that I believe has the biggest impact — more than money or any certificate — is an in-person verbal compliment given by a leader before the honoree’s colleagues or the entire staff of the firm. Why? Because being singled out by a leader in front of your peers says to all that you have done something that most others have not. It is ego-satisfying like little else, and generally motivates one to achieve still greater heights — so that the powerful moment can happen once again. Second best is a memo citing the achievement that goes to the entire firm.

Praise is actually addictive. A public pat on the back releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the brain, creating feelings of pride and pleasure. People work hard to accomplish big long-term goals — building billings, for instance, or increasing profitability — little by little. The dopamine high is the short-term payoff that keeps them going.

Continue to provide physical rewards … but capitalize on achievement by adding verbal recognition in front of the teammates and associates and you send a message that they, too, can merit heroic mention before the “masses.”

Technorati Tags: achievement, Gallup research, compliment, recognition, praise

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