Customer EngagementKathleen's Corner

The Simple Act of Recognition

I read recently about a Japanese study whose findings were that “compliments can help improve student and employee performance as much as monetary rewards.” Researcher Norihiro Sadato stated that “to the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money.”

This is yet another indication that the simple human connection created through positive engagement yields a very powerful response. When people feel better about what they are contributing they do better.

Is this too simple? Are people so starved for recognition that the simple act of a kind word or thoughtful recognition is enough to inspire? I believe this to be true. Analyze your “feedback approach.” Is it a compliment sandwiched between what was done poorly? Sadly, the recipient of this feedback will often only recall the coaching on what was done wrong. The “compliment” buried by the feedback is often lost; the recipient returns to duty feeling more demoralized than inspired.

I have seen many operations in which recognition efforts are clear and stand-alone activities tied to process improvements, sales, and peer recognition. These are programs that don’t cost a whole lot, but they generate interest, enthusiasm, and the opportunity to contribute. For example, entire teams may engage in a dialogue about the overall health of the operation as well as individual performance. In other words, recognition is pushed up a notch, thinking is encouraged, and your team is put on the offense instead of the defense.

While these efforts are engaging, participation must be closely monitored to safeguard the program being hijacked by a few that become a kind of “clique” within the Contact Center … not unlike high school!! Programs that expand participation by providing opportunities on multiple fronts are the ones most likely to engage the largest number of people. While we have efforts to identify such things as process improvements, why not add something like, “What have I learned about our customers this week?” Answers might reflect varied emotions that reflect humor, frustration, thoughtfulness, pathos, etc. Imagine the collection one would have in a year’s time if these learnings were elicited and collected every week. This type of effort has the potential to be a win-win because a process, procedure, or product issue may emerge as a result of learning more about our customers! Everyone wins!

Team recognition in no way minimizes the need for individual recognition. I have to say that I am not of the “give everyone a trophy” mentality. However, leadership recognition practices must be a discipline … like flossing your teeth or eating more fiber. If you don’t do it, the pain is not immediate. But it will catch up with you.

I never cease to be amazed by folks of my era (i.e., Baby Boomers) that find it so easy to trash the younger generation (i.e., Millennials, Generation Y). They are labeled as impossible, not committed, entitled, etc. And I suppose that many are. But I see a completely different scenario. These “kids” are the future. They are the generation that has seen their families hurt by corporate shenanigans that left their parents without jobs or pensions due to lay-offs, job eliminations, or off-shoring. Their view of the world has been jaded by what they view as unfair or just plain stupid. If you lead members of this generation in a way that reinforces their negative beliefs they most assuredly will be working for you just for that check until something better comes along. (And it will!)

Too many leaders today adopt a belief about a workforce that causes them to hold back praise because the group in question is painted with a brush that excludes recognition. (Some might say … tough love.) Knowing and respecting those you are leading is critical to establishing a discipline of recognition. Knowing how you feel about those you are leading is also critical; you may need to adjust your thinking in order to get out of your own way!

If in fact your mission is to engage employees in a way that boosts morale, it seems that our Japanese researcher may be on to something. The human brain digests recognition as a kind of fuel for ongoing positive results as much if not more than just money. Needless to say the combination of recognition AND money is always welcome!

What can you do now? Look around your operation. Do you really need another pizza party or is it time to get some note cards? A written note from a leader is a powerful boost to anyone’s well being. How long has it been since you were able to engage in the simple and elegant act of writing a note to recognize a contributor? For some it was as recent as today. Others can’t remember ever engaging in such an act. They are crippled by a belief system that rejects praise for the job “they were hired to do.” Challenge this kind of thinking because it will not contribute positively to your business goals or your experience. Negative thinking is a filter which distorts your view of the world; it makes you cranky, impatient, and difficult to work with and for!

Rise up at this special time of year and think about what you could do to make a cultural shift toward the inclusion of simple acts of recognition. These could be notes or comments that recognize individual contributions. During these crazy times many leaders simply cannot secure the budget dollars to provide decent raises. (Hopefully this will loosen up.) So what to do instead? Recognize performance and encourage learning. These are two morale builders that pay off both in terms of innate human satisfaction and in ultimate job performance. Give it a try … and Happy Holidays!

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